Marianne Henkel

12 June, 2018

 

Given the strident advance of some trends, especially technological, the pressure to anticipate and react to change early on has grown considerably. Where do ICSOs stand in terms of future preparedness? Members of the civil society foresight community Scanning the Horizon requested a mapping of how ICSOs prepare for change. The assessment[1]  sought to provide an overview of what ICSOs do to identify and explore trends and potential disruption in the mid- to long-term, and how they plan to respond (see also the key findings).

Indeed, all organisations surveyed are undertaking steps to identify and assess trends and
disruptors. However, levels of intensity – as measured by the number of activities, diversity
of stakeholders involved and envisaged actions – vary greatly. Scanning is mostly carried out by senior management at the international headquarters, followed by those at the country or regional level, international and country-level senior leadership, and to a very limited degree by other groups in the organisation. Anecdotal evidence, e.g. from more participatory organisational restructuration processes, suggests that wider engagement helps organisations become more open to change.

Further, few organisations appear to have a clear-cut mandate or plan for their scanning work specifying a set timeline, goals and responsibilities and dedicated funds – a finding that corroborates an earlier review of ICSOs’ scanning approaches from 2016.[2] Instead, much of the engagement tends to be ad-hoc, partly building on work on top of people’s daily jobs, in evolving, not clearly defined processes. That likely makes them more dependent on the motivation of a few champions and limits the leverage of such processes with internal stakeholders, including the executive management and Board. That being said, about a fourth have some regular – if at times embryonic – engagement with trends at the senior leadership or other levels in place, and a couple of organisations look to joining up hitherto distributed practices into a more coherent approach.

Respondents focus mostly on mega-trends and trends in their own sector, building on an analysis of existing trend reports[3] for either. While this is an efficient approach, spotting disruption will inadvertently remain a weak spot. Little seems to be done in the sense of true horizon scanning, like an internal seismograph to spot emerging issues and potential disruptors. A look at the so-called S-curve is useful to understand the implications:

disrupt and innovate

When drawing information on trends from sector reports or the mainstream media, these developments have typically reached the mainstream, what is called the “reactive zone”. Screening relevant scientific and fringe sources of information, including thought leaders, helps raise awareness of trends much earlier, giving the organisation more time to take strategic action and assume a pioneer role or watch the trend unfold for a while.

However, it also seems that a number of trends ICSOs mention as significant remain by and large unacted upon at the moment. These include continued closing of civic space in
countries of operation, urbanisation and climate change. Few seem to be taking concrete
action or to have developed a systematic response beyond spurring innovation and agility more broadly. By comparison, most developments relating to funding or modes of delivery of development and humanitarian aid seem to induce more, and more targeted responses.

A couple of interviewees mention that the scope of change organisations can assess and deal with is limited: “We are now more attuned to trends, but it can be distracting – after all, you have to actually do something in the present. …The big question is, of course, have we done enough to remain relevant to our target group as an INGO, have we changed radically”. This is a valid and critical issue.

Adaptation capacities are limited (and always will be), which requires two complementary approaches: for one, honing those capacities, and second, a sound mechanism to detect and scope new challenges and opportunities, so as to be able to prioritise quickly and not be caught out cold.

So where do ICSOs stand in terms of future preparedness? The picture is highly heterogeneous, but a number of organisations might benefit from a more conscious and systematic approach to spotting and assessing change. Some key questions are:

  • How can we become more apt at spotting potential disruption and emerging issues?
  • Can joint assessment of change beyond senior leadership help organisations become more agile, including in decentralised organisational structures?
  • How can organisations ensure they act on critical challenges that are detached from their missions but influence their capacity to deliver on them?

We will carry these discussions forward in the Scanning the Horizon community.

 

[1] This was done via an online survey from December 2017 through February 2018 and a series of complementing interviews in February with select survey respondents, both targeting senior ICSO staff charged with strategy, trend analysis and organisational adaptation to change.  We reached out to 31 ICSOs with an invitation to take the survey and shared the invitation via social media. We received 18 responses from ICSOs. A workshop co-hosted by ODI, Plan International and Scanning the Horizon on 6 March 2018 served to present and discuss the findings with members of ICSOs’ senior management, thereby complementing and corroborating the desk work.

[2] Internal questionnaire-based review of scanning approaches among Scanning the Horizon members, with 12 respondents.

[3] Such as the US National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends (2016) report, the UK Ministry of Defence Global Strategic Trends Out to 2045 report (2014) for mega-trends, and Bond’s Tomorrows’ World (2015) and Scanning the Horizon’s “Exploring the Future” (2016) reports for development sector trends.

 

 

Wolfgang Jamann

24 April, 2018

Would you rather lead us into famine response in South Sudan, or into the jungle of digitalisation? This hypothetical question to international civil society leaders (CEOs and Chairs) was looming over last week’s annual retreat organised by the Centre, and the active attendance confirmed their courage and curiosity to engage in uncovering what this megatrend means, not just for civil society organisations, but also to their top brass.

Getting an understanding of what digitalisation means for our sector is always a good starting point. In most recent surveys, the high level of importance of digitalisation for our work is coupled with an extremely low readiness to understand and embrace this development.

You get, however, very quickly that this is not something that one can ‘compartmentalise’, or delegate down to the Chief Information Officer or the Head of IT. Every aspect of our work, from fundraising and communications to better participation in program decisions, and finding new solutions to problems of poverty, marginalisation and environmental issues, can ideally benefit from digital tools, and requires a basic understanding at the level of decision makers. MORE

Helene Wolf

6 March, 2018

A few weeks ago I recruited a new colleague to our small Centre secretariat team. The pattern of many previous rounds was repeated: We reviewed a number of very qualified and competent young female candidates, struggled to invite equally impressive male applicants for an interview and in the end offered the position to a very dedicated, ambitious and talented woman who wants to develop a long-term career in the civil society sector. I have met and worked with many women like her over the years at the Centre and in the civil society organisations (CSOs) we work with. MORE

Claudia Juech

13 February, 2018

If you do an internet search for ‘data-driven disruption’ you can find articles about almost every industry being disrupted by digitalisation and new applications of data. Banking, transportation, healthcare, retail, and real estate, all have seen the emergence of new business models fundamentally changing how customers use their services. While there are instances of data-driven efforts in the nonprofit sector, they are not as widespread as they can be. Bridgespan Group estimated in 2015 that only 6% of nonprofits use data to drive improvements in their work.  

At the same time, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have set a very ambitious global change agenda and we won’t be able to meet their targets by doing business as usual. To achieve the SDGs requires new ideas across the board: new solutions, new sources of funding, new ways of delivering services and new approaches to collaborating within and across social, public and private sectors.   MORE

Duncan Cook

6 February, 2018

Chapter 1: The Internet 

Today I read a journal article about the charity sector reaching a ‘digital tipping point’. My immediate thought was, “It’s 2018 and we have to ask ourselves is the civil society sector only now talking about a ‘digital tipping point'”.

The introduction of the internet and its plethora of services, knowledge sharing and mass communications has changed humanity for good and for bad. 

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say the charity sector missed the opportunity to truly use this new and exciting platform for good, yes there are some good exceptions. However, in general, we missed a big opportunity, instead, we let the commercial world dominate the direction and were left simply as consumers of those services and platforms.   MORE

Thomas Howie

30 January, 2018

The International Civil Society Centre is hosting its second Innovators Forum on 27-28 February 2018. The Forum will explore the benefits and possible uses of Blockchain and Big Data in the civil society sector. Before the Forum, guest authors will dive into specific examples or innovations around digitalisation and digital technology, in this week’s blog we want to give a brief overview of the main terms and some examples of their uses.

Many CSOs around the world have realised the potential linked to both Blockchain and Big Data and are currently experimenting with how these technologies can support their work.

Big Data – what is that?

The term Big Data refers to extremely large datasets that can be analysed for trends and correlations by connecting different data on a large scale. Due to the size and complexity of the data sets used, new links and patterns can be uncovered. This means that problems that were previously not possible – or simply too complex! – to explain can now be tackled. Most CSOs work with Big Data to improve knowledge about marginalised or ignored groups of people and to identify better ways to serve them. Here are three examples how: MORE

Åsa Månsson

23 January, 2018

Digitalisation is having an enormous influence on the new infrastructure of global society in the 21st century. It is changing the playing field as we speak and forcing us to adapt quickly to new circumstances, changing the way we see ourselves and our organisations. The World Economic Forum talks about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” when describing the current digital revolution.[1] MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

12 December, 2017

When civil society organisations (CSOs) speak about power they usually refer to the power of others, and they refer to power in negative terms: power is used to oppress and exploit, power corrupts. However, such a simplistic and prejudiced understanding of power is an obstacle to CSOs’ endeavours to achieve their missions. Our sector needs to change its understanding of power in order to increase its effectiveness.

Embracing POWER as a positive concept

When looking up the definition of power in a dictionary we find that power is simply “the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way”[1]. Power as such is neither positive nor negative. It is necessary in order “to do something”, be it good or bad. This means CSOs need power to achieve the positive aims they are working for. They are part of the eternal power struggle between good and bad, egotism and altruism, short-term gains and long-term sustainability, etc. In this context it is not only necessary for CSOs to strive for maximum power, it is ethically desirable, as long as CSOs use their power consistently and effectively to attain their mission. MORE

Kevin Jenkins

12 September, 2017

This era of rapid and accelerating change affects World Vision and our peers in the non-profit sector as much as anyone else.

The explosion of ‘big’ data, the pervasiveness of mobile technology, the increasing vacuum of political leadership, the ascendency of fear over hope – all affect our work.

Even the face of poverty is morphing. In a generation, populations once defined as ‘poor’ are now making progress, while those in fragile states and conflict-affected regions are slipping behind.

Some global trends affect those with the least resources more severely, including the negative aspects of urbanisation, the dramatic increase of climate-related emergencies, and rising inequality between the hyper-rich and the unreached poor.

Confronting this requires a transformation in our sector. But change is never abstract. It’s always personal … and that’s why it’s so difficult. MORE

Deborah Doane

5 September, 2017

A well-known global human rights activist working on the enabling space for civil society recently said to me: “to do this work, you need to prepare to be arrested.” Though I’m fairly comfortable with activism, having been a long-time campaigner – this came as a bit of a shock, especially as I work in a comfortable western environment. As it happened, shortly after we spoke, he was threatened with arrest in his own country.

My colleague’s response to the threat wasn’t what most would do. Rather than going undercover, he went into a press conference and said: “I’m here. Arrest me.”  Fortunately, they have yet to do so. MORE