Etmanski: Advocate with Empathy

When people ask what it is like to work in government I get them to imagine all the work for all parts of government as a giant slow-moving stream.   Since the stream is moving so slowly, it takes deliberate choice to expend the effort to actually get anywhere.   95% of government employees are happy to bob along like driftwood at the whims of the stream.  The other 5% are problem-solvers in boats trying to make a difference by paddling.  Inevitably though, the boats reach a place where the driftwood has clogged the stream and the paddlers must decide whether to work through it or bail out for the shore.

After reading Etmanski’s Advocate for Empathy, I realize my analogy isn’t entirely fair because it leaves out one important group.  There are some pieces of driftwood, tired of bending to the will of the stream, that want to climb into the boats to paddle.

But climbing into the boat means accepting three realities.  First, we can’t change the pace of the steam.  It is so cluttered with competing requests that it can be difficult to tell which direction the stream is flowing.  Second, we can’t change the technology of boats and paddles.  Even though voters expect government to move more rapidly by utilizing motors and GPS, they don’t want to pay for it.  Third, everyone can see you’re paddling effort from the shore and offer their critiques and condemnations.

The result is an intensely risk-averse environment rife with fear, stifling opportunities for innovation, change and impact.

Despite this, people want to paddle, so how do we help them into the boats?  

Etmanski points to Solution-Based Advocacy which focuses on solutions over criticisms and improving the ability of government to make better decisions.  It means acknowledging we are all in the same boat, government included, so we may as well learn paddling techniques from each other.

Five Characteristics of Solution Based Advocacy

  • Searching for a Heart of Gold” – Taking the time to look beyond what our political leaders do, to learn about who they are.
  • Using Strategic Inquiry” – Aligning your agenda with the government agenda by “…discovering the priorities, language and tools of the group you are trying to convince…” (p.116)
  • Cultivating a Network of Champions” – Although we think one champion is great, it just isn’t enough.
  • Solving Problems Together” – Shifting government from the role of parent to partner.
  • Doing it Themselves” – Regardless of how amazing the idea is, there will always be opposing interests being considered decision-makers.  Forging ahead without them can create the space they need to champion your idea and your success in the face of opposition.

Are you a paddler or are you driftwood?

 

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski is a guide for social innovators to move their idea from localized success to broader systemic impact.

Etmanski: Think and Act Like a Movement

Al Etmanski’s book assumes readers are striving to achieve real systemic change and his first pattern articulates the importance of movements.  For Etmanski, “Institutional change cannot happen without a movement” (P.49) and “A movement is composed of a million small acts.” (P.48).

This is not new.  Change occurs when enough people are moved to action for a long enough period that it finally happens. Gladwell talks about this type of change in Tipping Point.

The new piece for me was Etmanski’s insistence that systemic change requires us to look beyond our immediate context and missions to the broader goals of the movement. As an example you might identify a gap in mental health support for veterans. To impact the system creating the gap, Etmanski believes you should align your efforts with broader movements like The Movement for Global Mental Health or The Canadian Mental Health Association.

Think back to the occasions when you were involved in developing a mission and vision for your organization.  Was the movement a part of those discussions and considerations?  Was a movement objective devised alongside the mission and vision?

It’s not unusual for us to focus on the local context where we can see the ways our work makes a difference.  Spending time and energy on thinking about how we will contribute to the ‘movement’ seems like an abstract, ambiguous, pointless task.

To keep conversations about developing a movement objective meaningful, Etmanski provides some loose boundaries in his characteristics of an effective social justice movement.

Five Characteristics of an Effective Social Justice Movement.

  1. “They ignite our imaginations” – Do you contribute to a bold vision that disrupts the status quo?
  2. “They are multi-generational” – Do you contribute to movements as they reappear in new forms with successive generations?
  3. “They comprise small acts” – Do you contribute to the same thing that others feel compelled to contribute to?
  4. “They are self-organized” Do you contribute to something in which everyone sees the goal without a central command structure or charismatic champion?
  5. “They marry art and justice” – Do you contribute to something in which art has created new ways of seeing the world and transformed what we see as a possibility?

 

Would you say efforts to help the flood of Syrian Refugees is a movement?  Or the Arab Spring? Or Occupy Wall Street?

 

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski is a guide for social innovators to move their idea from localized success to broader systemic impact.

 

Making Your Idea Matter

Having repeatedly heard folks in social innovation circles refer to Al Etmanski, I felt compelled to pick up his book Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.  It’s intended to guide innovators after their idea has been mushed, mashed, shaped, sanded, polished and tested.

How does a social innovator shepherd an idea from local success to broader systemic impact?

I recommend picking up a copy for his stories illustrating many of the ideas I’ll be posting.  A quick, accessible, useful read.

Etmanski opens by saying we all have the ability, capacity and responsibility to innovate. We can’t escape by saying ‘I’m not a big idea thinker‘ or ‘I’m a doer not a thinker‘. Further, he identifies three types of innovators needed to spread an idea, no matter how amazing, to achieve broader systemic impact.

Disruptive Innovators: have the unwavering belief that we can do better by challenging the the way it’s always been done..

Bridging Innovators: have the credibility and networks to highlight the benefits of the disruptive innovator’s new idea for institutions and policy makers.

Receptive Innovators: have access and knowledge of the system to change policy, law or funding to make the idea possible. (also known as intrapreneurs).

Which type of innovator are you?  Even more importantly, do you know anyone from the other two types of innovator?

 

Podcast Pick: SSIR – Whose Story Are We Telling? (Andrew Means)

Before hearing Andrew Means on the SSIR podcast, I would listen to the stories Not-for-Profit organizations tell about their work and couldn’t help but be inspired.  Hearing the exceptional rags-to-riches story about a person experiencing homelessness that used an NPO’s employment program and now manages a local million dollar company would move me to open my wallet.

Another common narrative is based in data.  After hearing that upon completion of the employment program 85% of participants (people experiencing homelessness) became employed, I became convinced the program is ‘doing something right‘.

Look more closely at the stories and you’ll notice they have two common deficiencies.

First, they fail to link the complex nature of the problem to the need for their program.  As a complex problem, homelessness is multi-faceted with causes sprouting from racism, poverty, abuse, family violence, mental illness, and addiction to name a few.  Are you able to articulate how the employment program addresses some of these broader facets of homelessness?

Second, the stories tell us what has been accomplished in the past but fail to articulate why it matters for the future.  Has the story about the employment program taught us about the ways in which being employed will impact people experiencing homelessness in the future?

Means believes our stories need to go beyond our comfortable narratives to include how the program/organization has impacted the broader systemic context.

Yes. Impact.  When I think about measuring impact I am immediately overwhelmed by where to start while remembering past attempts rife with pitfalls and blind alleys.  But Means believes it’s the key to making progress on complex, systemic, nasty, intractable social problems and he has a tidy little formula to get us started.

World with your organization – World without your organization = Impact of your organization 

Tidy to say. Still messy to do.  Fortunately Means gives us a couple tips and some excellent examples to get us thinking about starting.

Counter-factuals:  provide us with an accounting of what would have happened if the organization/program had never existed.  This would mean asking how many of the participants getting a job after completing the employment program would have landed employment anyway.  Then setting this against the 85%.

Displacement: helps us articulate how our work causes ripples in the broader context.  It might mean asking how many participants getting a job after completing the employment program are filling positions otherwise filled by equally qualified people already in the labour market and setting this against the 85% too.

Granted. Quantifying displacement and counter-factuals can be time-consuming and possibly expensive.  But Means is nudging us towards authentically confronting the gap between what we want to accomplish and what we are actually accomplishing. 

The result will be a community making more informed decisions about contributing towards outcomes we actually want to achieve rather than outcomes we pretend we are achieving.

When we join the crowd at the Annual General Meeting, it is with the expectation that we will hear the stories that make us feel like we are in the presence of something that matters.  But the stories are stuck in a rut.  They have a predictable plot involving the usual characters.  Think the movie Star Wars.

Means is nudging us towards telling more complex stories by introducing compelling storylines and new characters illustrating the relationship between complex problems and our work.  Think the movie Interstellar.

 

Whose Story Are We Telling? Featuring Andrew Means from Stanford Social Innovation Review Podcast

 

Scenario Thinking: Act and Monitor (Phase Four/Five)

Scenario thinking has five basic phases as outlined in What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits.
  • Phase One (Orient) –  creates a clearly articulated issue/question
  • Phase Two (Explore) –  identifies all driving forces.
  • Phase Three (Synthesize) – prioritizes driving forces
  • Phase Four (Act) – crafts the strategic agenda
  • Phase Five (Monitor) – signals the need for tweaks to the strategic agenda  
 
 

Act

Gather the scenario frameworks from the Synthesize phase and fully immerse yourself in their narratives.  Imagine that the future circumstances of each scenario are really occurring and ask yourself:

  • What actions would I take today to prepare?
  • What could I do to increase the likelihood that this scenario will come true?
  • What could I do to decrease the likelihood that this scenario will come true?

Answering the questions will reveal scenario implications for each scenario.  If the scenario describes a future in which there is reduced government funding and a weak economy, it is safe to deduce that one implication would result in less funding for the organization.  It may also expedite innovative approaches the organization has wanted the opportunity to explore as another possible implication.

Your strategic agenda will start to emerge as you reflect on the implications of each scenario.

Begin by searching for implications common to all scenarios because they represent the lowest level of risk.  The same implication present in each scenario will make it most likely to come true in the future.  One implication likely to be present in all scenarios for a not-for-profit organization is funding shortfalls regardless of government funding or the strength of the economy.  Basing your strategy on funding shortfalls is fairly safe.

Relying on a scenario implication that is singularly different from other scenarios represents the highest level of risk because there is a lower likelihood that it will come true.   Basing your strategy on the future outcome of an election is risky for the organization.

“The test of a good set of scenarios is not whether in the end it turns out to portray the future accurately but whether it enables an organization to learn, adapt and take effective action.” (P.30, What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits)

 

Monitor

Monitoring the strategic agenda is often the stage that gets sidelined by the day-to-day routine of the organization.   Monitoring involves watching for signals indicating changes in the environment potentially impacting the organization and its strategic agenda. 

The key to the Monitor phase is selecting the correct signals to watch by identifying a set of ‘leading indicators’They should contain a mix of qualitative and quantitative information from the local, national and international contexts.  Then take some time to make adjustments to your strategic agenda.

Your Situation Is Ideal for Scenario Thinking If….

When I first began reading about scenario thinking I was equal parts intrigued and skeptical.  If resources are already stretched and people are already too busy, how does an organization allow itself the time and space to ensure the initiative has a chance at success?

For successful scenario thinking, the authors of What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits recommend the organization be:

  • oriented towards learning by engaging in authentic conversations about its warts and wonders.
  • comfortable with not being comfortable by intentionally and constantly acquainting itself with change
  • open to hearing divergent perspectives to unlock the otherwise unrealized opportunities or mitigate previously unnoticed threats.
  • comfortable with implementing change where and when needed.
  • lead by someone who understands and champions the scenario thinking process including the implementation of its discoveries.
  • willing to commit the resources needed to do the work.

The authors also supplied an excellent initial litmus test you can use to determine organizational readiness for scenario thinking (What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits, p.21)

Do not use scenario thinking when…

  • the problem you are dealing with is not central to your organizational strategy and/or your problem and solution are clear.
  • the outcome is largely predetermined due to internal or external factors.
  • the leadership want to maintain the status quo.
  • there is too much urgency to step back for a reflective and creative conversation.
  • your desired outcomes are poorly aligned with your dedicated resources.

Your situation is ideal for scenario thinking if….

  • you are dealing with a strategic issue and the solution is unclear.
  • you are working in a highly uncertain environment.
  • there is leadership support for the scenario thinking process.
  • your organization is open to change and dialogue.
  • you can attract the resources necessary for a successful initiative.

4 Reasons to Think in Scenarios

As many of you know I have the honor of sitting on the board for the Skills Society.  An honor because of what they do and who they support but also because I come in contact with some amazing people and ideas.  Recently we were asked to read What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits.  

Although scenario thinking has been around for decades, its recent use has become increasingly essential in our ever-changing context.  And if you’re hoping the tidal wave of change will soon pass, you will be disappointed. Most of the literature I have been reading (Inc.com, Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly, Twist Image) indicates the pace of change will only accelerate and consequently become more unpredictable.

As an Executive Director for a not-for-profit organization, how do you determine a strategic direction when the destination you choose today could disappear tomorrow?

Scenario thinking seems to offer a lifeline for our beleaguered Executive Directors because it forces us from the comfort of traditional strategic planning and broadens our thinking beyond the insular confines the status quo.  By encouraging us to think about the present through the prisms of multiple scenarios, it reveals previously unidentified threats and opportunities for the organization.

To be clear, we are not trying to predict the future. Predicting the future makes you a futurist not a strategist.  We are not trying to predict who will win the election, rather we are trying to plan for many possible winners and how it could impact the work being done by the organization.

“Ultimately, the point of scenario thinking is not to write stories of the future.  Rather, it is to arrive at a deeper understanding of the world in which your organization operates, and to use that understanding to inform your strategy and improve your ability to make better decisions today and in the future ” p.9

As a process, scenario planning is outside-in.  It begins by identifying driving forces of the broader environmental context external to the organization (technological, social, economic, political, environmental). At Skills we are constantly having conversations about the threats and opportunities inherent in shifts in the provincial economy.

Next, scenario thinking examines the working environment external to the organization (clients, stakeholders, partners, funders, constituents, customers, competitors, regulators).   One consideration Skills is tracking is the shifting demographics of the clients we serve and the threats and opportunities it could present for service delivery.

Finally, it moves to considering the internal organizational conditions. This means having conversations about ways in which external forces (broader environmental context and working conditions) could influence the organization and how it functions internally.  For Skills, this requires discussions about how the economic realities and client demographics could effect the way the organization delivers services to its clients.

Incidentally, scenario thinking can also be done in the same way for issues or complex problems.

 

Four Reasons to Think in Scenarios

Setting Strategic Direction: develops a strategic plan that accounts for possible changes in the environment outside the organization or tests your current strategic plan.

Catalyzing Bold Action: inspires and nudges the organization to take bold actions pushing beyond assumptions that reinforce the status quo by …rehearsing diverse and provocative future possibilities-both desirable scenarios you would like to help create and dark scenarios that generate a sense of urgency” p.16

Accelerate Collaborative Learning: uncovers otherwise inconceivable solutions by creating a space for the organization to learn from diverse perspectives.

Alignment and Visioning: forges new relationships by creating a shared understanding of the complexity of the problem resulting in new approaches.

 

Do your own Outside-in thinking:  

  1. To begin, think of an issue that you feel strongly about fixing but society has not successfully addressed (e.g. poverty, animal abuse, education for gifted students, mental health, addiction, ….)
  2. Draw a column on the left side of the page.  Identify the technological, social, economic, political, and environmental factors in the contextual environment that impact your issue (not meant to be an exhaustive list – just whatever comes to mind).
  3. Draw another column in the center of the page.  Identify the factors (clients, stakeholders, partners, funders, constituents, customers, competitors, regulators) in the working environment that impact your issue (again,  just whatever comes to mind).
  4. Draw a third column on the right and leave it blank.
  5. This is where the activity gets interesting!!  Find someone that has the same level of interest in the issue you have a chosen but you know their approach is quite different from yours. Have them fill in the first two columns for themselves.
  6. Go out for a coffee or a lunch with the other person and fill in the final column together.  Do not vet or debate the ideas- just fill them in together.
  7. Next, notice and discuss where your ideas converge and diverge.  The most important revelations will come from the conversations around where your ideas diverge the greatest.  
  8. Make note of any new ideas or approaches emerging from your conversation.

    Congratulations, you have just done outside-in thinking!!