Megan Campbell

23 May, 2017

What do people want to make their lives better? Are we helping them get it? If not, what should we be doing differently?

These are simple questions. Sometimes, we mistake them as trivial or think that we already know the answers. When I led a water and sanitation programme in Malawi I believed that people in Malawi needed clean water. I believed I could help them get it by helping local governments build their capacity to construct and repair water infrastructure. I saw plenty of evidence that what I was offering matched what was needed and wanted. I knew about confirmation bias, knew that communities and local government officials were likely to praise my programme rather than risk losing free support, but I believed that I had strong enough relationships to be hearing the truth. MORE

Kimberly Coletti

16 May, 2017

Save the Children, in its founding, was a form of innovation—it was certainly a disruptive idea. Nearly 100 years ago in 1919—as Europe and the world reeled from the devastating effects of the First World War—a young British woman named Eglantyne Jebb made the argument for the first time that children had rights.  This thought, coupled with Jebb’s call to aid orphans of the war in Eastern Europe was unheard of and deeply unpopular. But she persisted, believing that children were innocent of the crimes of their parents and entitled to rights as individuals. She founded Save the Children because she saw a wrong and was determined to right it—and the regular way of doing things simply wasn’t going to fix things. MORE

Marc Maxmeister

9 May, 2017

 

Think about how you met the most important people in your life? Did you open up the sports page of the newspaper and check their stats? Did you have a meeting with your friends and weigh the character of all the people you could go on a date with? And yet that is how nonprofit funders claim to approach their relationships in this world. They want to be “strategic” and “evidence based” when what would really transform our approach to solving a problem is to be more human, to be a better listener, and to be emotionally present in a long-term relationship. As a PhD neuroscientist turned data scientist, you’d expect me to argue for the primacy of evidence in decision-making. Instead, I’m a believer that being human first will lead us to the evidence that matters most. MORE

Ellie Stephens and Katie Mattern

2 May, 2017

We’ve all heard it repeated multiple times in our lives:  we all work better together. The work we do is greater than one individual, and together we can solve the challenges our world and communities face. We’ve also heard this refrain multiple times in our sector, it’s not a revolutionary idea but it’s one that’s seemingly harder and harder to take ownership of in our work.

This adage has never been more important than it is today, as civil society faces an increasing challenge of legitimacy in an evolving world too often dominated by political and financial elites. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, only 3 percent of the world currently lives in countries where fundamental civic rights are respected and enforced, leaving 6 billion people living in countries where freedom of association, assembly, and speech are curtailed. MORE

Alexia Skok

25 April, 2017

In the civil society sector, it could be argued that the only thing we can accurately predict is the unpredictability of today’s world. The changes we are facing come fast and hard, and organisations must do everything in their power to be prepared to ensure their ability to deliver. Yet from climate change, to populism, to the power of social media, being ready for the future is possible; Scanning the Horizon helps civil society organisations (CSOs) detect early signs of upcoming changes, allowing them to anticipate for disruption, and turn potential challenges into advantages.

Over the last month, innovators and leaders from UNICEF, the International Civil Society Centre, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), and OECD have been sharing their successes in, and tips for, Horizon Scanning.

Share your Scanning the Horizon insights and victories in the comments section below. MORE

Marianne Henkel

18 April, 2017

Do you like outdoor shops? I do. When setting out to get equipped for a trip, I can take hours marvelling at all those gadgets. And by the time I head toward the checkout counter, I have thought through all possible challenges and surprises I may encounter on my travels and their likelihood, and prioritised what to put in my basket (alright, except where fads and good marketing get the better of me … ).

09_ResponsiveSimilarly, Horizon Scanning and innovation together are a survival kit for agents of change in an age of change. The four contributions in this series have done a great job of pinpointing and structuring the different dimensions of the nexus between Horizon Scanning and innovation, leaving to me only to flesh out some key insights that emerge from their synopsis.  The key message in which they all concur is that:

Horizon Scanning and innovation enable us to deliver on our missions in a changing environment – all the more if they are well-linked. Given today’s urgent priorities, Horizon Scanning (and innovation) can easily be perceived as of second-order importance, anything between nuisance and luxury. However, both are about securing impact and relevance (Gnärig), about being able to fulfil your mission when the world – for which your organisation and strategy were built – changes fundamentally; About the challenge of hitting a moving target. Or, as Roberts puts it, Scanning and innovation are “fundamentally about purpose and intent”, in that they serve to reassert one’s agency instead of “simply responding to change with what seems appropriate at the time”. Le Goulven and Kaplan provide several instructive examples of how Horizon Scanning has “made the needle move” and led UNICEF to innovation – taking new approaches in response to new opportunities and challenges, opening new avenues to impact. MORE

Katell Le Goulven and Eva Kaplan

11 April, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


In early 2015, as Ebola was still ravaging West Africa, and markets experienced high volatility, our unit at UNICEF began our annual predications blog by announcing an end to predictability.  At least in this we were correct: volatility has only amplified since and, in retrospect, 2015 seems like a more stable time.

In reaction to this context of rapid change, UNICEF’s Policy Planning Unit sought to systematise our use of methodologies to anticipate emerging trends—both those with negative and positive potential. One such methodology is Horizon Scanning, which involves scanning a wide variety of information sources for trends and clustering them according to predefined categories.  At UNICEF, we use STEEP + H categories (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political + Humanitarian). Horizon Scanning allows us to pick up on so-called weak signals that might be pointing to the next mega-trend. However, identification of emerging trends is not the same as taking action.  Indeed, a classic bottleneck of Horizon Scanning work in large organisations is the “and-then-what?” phase. Using concrete illustrations where our scanning exercises had impact and helped spur innovation, here are a few lessons that we hope can initiate a discussion with other organisations developing similar functions: MORE

Sara Farley and Jill Carter

4 April, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


Look to the outside

Faced with complexity, decision makers, more than ever, struggle to understand how the impact of their actions will play out in the world around them. To overcome this lack of clarity, decision makers can arm themselves with a new, powerful approach: Systems Thinking.

A “system” is a set of actors and interactions that form a coherent whole, perform a specific function, and have a boundary that sets it apart from the rest of the world.  These systems can be centered around a problem (e.g., pollution), an industry (e.g., health care), or even a geography (e.g., the United States). Systems Thinking is a mindset with which a person can look at the components of a system and explore how they interact and what the unintended consequences of those interactions may be.  While systems analysis is starting to infiltrate more and more social sector organisations and large international donors, most systems practice focuses on isolating dimensions of a single system and trying to understand them. At the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), where we pursue systemic transformation by helping groups collaboratively innovate, we recognise that no single system offers the full picture. Rather, our work suggests we can only measure innovation’s potential for impact by examining the intersection and interactions between three systems: (1) the problem space of focus, (2) the system from which innovation is sourced (the innovation system), and (3) the context in which challenges and innovations intersect (the context). MORE

Alex Roberts

28 March, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


We live in a world of continuing and accelerating change. Our expectations about the future are likely to be challenged more and more by rapidly emerging realities which are significantly different from the status quo. How can organisations effectively operate when their environment keeps changing and the future is uncertain?

From the experience of the public sector, there are two processes that can help – Horizon Scanning and innovation.

  • Horizon Scanning (and strategic foresight more generally) can help us understand and consider different possible futures and reflect on how we engage with, and shape, emerging issues or trends.
  • The innovation process can help provide novel responses to problems that require new solutions.Innovate

MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

21 March, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and horizon scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


If you look around yourself – or if you look at the range of contributions here on Disrupt&Innovate – there cannot be the slightest doubt that the world around us is changing fast and fundamentally. And if civil society organisations (CSOs) want to remain relevant and impactful we need to respond by reinventing ourselves. Neither our past successes nor our established routines will secure their survival. Only if we are courageous and bold in discarding much of our past and embracing an uncertain future will we stand a chance to develop relevance and effectiveness under completely different circumstances. CSOs’ change agenda should rest on four pillars: Scan – Disrupt – Innovate – Transform. MORE