Best practices for social change and environmental action

Archive for the ‘Methods’ Category

Shedding light on why the Web went dark

In Advocacy, Best practice, Communication, Methods, Online, Policy, Politics, Public Opinion, Tools on January 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm



Wondering what drove all those popular websites such as WikipediaInternet ArchiveReddit, and Boing Boing to “go dark” recently?  I didn’t really get it myself until I watched this presentation.

Leave it to Kahn Academy to figure out a clear, straightforward way to explain the near-unexplainable…in this case the cryptic sub-textual issues fueling the current brouhaha over the Stop Online Piracy Act – affectionately known as SOPA.  The simple hand-drawn animation elegantly amplifies the key points made by the narrator in a way that enables the audience to understand them without getting mired in sideshow minutiae and demagoguery.

All I can say is that we need a lot more of this clarity where the social sector meets public policy.  The Web seems to be the ideal venue for it.

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Think like a designer

In Best practice, Communication, Design, Methods, Resources, Social enterprise, Tools on December 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Can the same kind of thinking that conjured up the first laptop computer, Oral-B toothbrushes, and Steelcase chairs work in the social sectors? Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review,  two experts suggest that it most certainly can.

Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt of the consulting firm Ideo posit that the way is through the emerging practice of design thinking.  They should know; Ideo is renowned for the application of such thinking to things as diverse as utility bicycles and pharmaceutical innovation processes.  Moreover, the consultancy now puts design thinking to work on some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems.

The three step process they describe is deceptively simple: inspiration, ideation, implementation.  The catch is that it all demands new approaches, real-world insight, and a much wider frame of reference. None of it is easy to come by.

Design Thinking for Social Innovation is available online for free at the publication web site.

It validates the common wisdom that real impact now demands systemic solutions rooted in the real world of daily lives.

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Open source impact

In Best practice, Collaboration, Methods, Nonprofit management, Social enterprise on September 28, 2011 at 2:59 am

Open source models are now commonplace in the for-profit world, most notably within the technology sector.

The thinking and the appeal are clear enough: offer an excellent product at no cost to the user, foster the development of a support community dedicated to enhancing it … and natural market dynamics will encourage its adoption and create an entirely new economic ecosystem around it.  If your computer systems run any flavor of the Linux operating system … or if you use the popular Firefox web browser … you are an open source beneficiary. If you are a software developer customizing applications for those platforms, you are doing business and making money from them.

The open source approach may not be sustainable for every form of endeavor, but it certainly seems like a natural for the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors.  For an organization focused on solving problems first and foremost, open source methods could be logical ways to accelerate solutions.

It’s a worthy possibility to consider…and the Stanford Social Innovation Review is doing just that with a series of articles from experienced practitioners in the field. The first installment — Scaling Social Impact by Giving Away Value has been written by Roshan Paul and Alexa Clay of Ashoka to give the series a thought provoking launch.

It all makes good sense to this writer, and I’m eager to see what others have to say on the subject.

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Leap of Reason

In Best practice, Books, Fund raising, Grant writing, Methods, Nonprofit management, Resources, Tools on June 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Business books come at us a dime-a-dozen across the channels of the information age. Many, if not most, offer advice and “insights” that hardly make them worth the trouble to read, never mind the cost of purchase.  Yet, every now and then, something towers above the noise with uncommon wisdom, clarity, and sheer relevance. The justifiably-renowned From Good to Great is such a read – made even more useful for nonprofit and NGO leaders with the followup publication of a monograph for the social services sector. My advice on those is simple: read them, and read them again — taking notes.

Now comes along Leap of Reason, a compendium of essays and tools focused on the theme of Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity.  The project is a collaboration between Venture Philanthropy Partners and McKinsey & Company, who have worked together across the global nonprofit sector for years.  They’ve recruited an array of authors to lend their practical experience and know-how along with frameworks for addressing some well-known challenges out here in the real world.

There’s no need to go into the details here, other than to note that the publishers and writers are quite serious about getting this excellent resource in the hands of as many nonprofits as possible. In addition to making the hardcopy available through Amazon for a small handling and shipping fee, and a Kindle version with just a handling charge, the entire book is online for free in an iBook version or PDF.

Judging by a quick read, I’d say this one is definitely worth the time…and some discussion.

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Positive Deviance goes mainstream

In Best practice, Methods on March 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm

It’s been around since the 1970’s when nutrition researchers noted that in many impoverished communities some poor families managed to keep their children well-nourished.

They were the first identified “positive deviants” – the natural innovators who found better solutions than their peers, even though they had no special advantages, resources, or knowledge.

Since then, the concept of Positive Deviance (PD) has slowly gained traction and acceptance.

Its fundamental premise is that communities of all sorts have untapped assets or resources, and that certain individuals or groups will discover behaviors and strategies for solving problems that the rest of the community find intractable.

The practice of PD now has adherents in an array of fields ranging from public health, education, and poverty alleviation all the way over to corporate strategic planning. It is elegant in its simplicity and logic, but experience shows that PD can be a challenge to implement within a societal context. Thus, an organization has emerged to foster and support its application worldwide: the Positive Deviance Initiative (PDI), based at the the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Massachusetts.  The PDI currently works with a variety of global institutions that includes national ministries of health and hospitals, corporations, foundations, local and international NGOs, UNICEF, The Peace Corps, USAID, and the World Bank, to name just a few.

For an organization looking to explore the possibilities of PD within its field of work, PDI offers a number of ways to get rolling, including a certification program and the critically acclaimed text: The Power of Positive Deviance. Because the PDI website contains plenty of resources, perhaps the best place to start would be with the Basic Field Guide to the Positive Deviance Approach.

At a fundamental level, PD is an elegantly simple concept. Even so, that simplicity belies its depth, breadth and effectiveness in practice.