Disrupt and Innovate

27 June, 2017

In the civil society sector, it can sometimes feel like we are running just to stand still. Changes are going on around us all the time, and faster than ever before. That’s why having the people and ideas to harness those changes is crucial. Those people are called innovators. They work tirelessly to employ changes for the benefit of others, strive to break the mold and create what has never existed before. It’s as challenging as it sounds.

At the International Civil Society Centre we are lucky enough to have gathered the thoughts and experiences of several innovators at the top of their game and the forefront of their sectors. Here we present blogs from those innovators from; CIVICUS, Keystone Accountability, Save the Children, Feedback Labs, Good4Trust, Disberse, The International Civil Society Centre and UNICEF.

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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

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

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

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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

Robin Bourgeois

6 September, 2016

09_ResponsiveThere is a wide recognition today that international civil society organisations (ICSOs) are currently facing challenges that might as well mean their disappearance[1]. This would not be necessarily bad news if that disappearance meant that ICSOs had been successful in “working their way out of business”, having solved the issues which justified their creation. But this would be bad news if it resulted from a lack of anticipation about the constantly evolving environment under which they operate, and the constantly evolving nature of the issues they deal with. It would be bad if ICSOs have to walk out of business because they fail to understand how their business evolves.

This constant evolution of environment and issues can be characterised by a combination of trends and disruptions leading to increasingly uncertain futures. ICSOs are aware of this and have started to act. Indeed, the relationships ICSOs need to establish with the future are specific to their essence. Firstly because freedom, power and will, all characterise some of the core values of ICSOs. This is exactly what the future is about, as French futurist Hughues de Jouvenel once wrote: The future is a domain of freedom, a domain of power, a domain of will (FR). There is thus a natural bound between ICSOs and foresight. MORE

Alexia Skok

16 August, 2016

In 2016, disruptive factors are being whirled04_Certain around civil society in what can feel like a ceaseless tornado of governmental crackdowns, natural disasters, digital revolutions, and global human movement – just to name a few.

So how can civil society organisations (CSOs) prepare for – and overcome – these ever-changing obstacles that affect both their internal and external operations?

Over the past month, leaders and innovators from within the sector responded to this very question in a series of blog entries, covering topics including: preparedness and leadership; business involvement in the sector; the pressing need for Northern CSOs to learn from the South; and paving the way for development mutants. Here are some highlights from our blog series on Managing Disruption: MORE

Giulio Quaggiotto

9 August, 2016

I recently had the opportunity to learn about General Mill’s (the US food giant) “emerging brands elevator” program (also known as 301 Inc). Traditionally, General Mills has grown either through mergers and acquisitions, or by building new businesses from the ground up. Increasingly, however, it found that small brands were much faster at innovation, so it decided to switch its focus and create a “brand elevator”. The program consists of 2 core components:

  1. horizon scanning: to spot the most promising 21_NewPlayersemerging brands;
  2. indispensable partner: to identify ways in which the company can add most value to small, nimble businesses. Often this has less to do with capital injection and more to do with making the expertise and clout of a big multinational available to a small player.

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Craig Zelizer

26 July, 2016

One of the most famous quotes of business in the 20th century comes from Nobel Prize Winning Economist, Milton Friedman, “The business of business is business.” As a leading conservative economist, Friedman believed corporations should largely be left to pursuing profit, which would lead to a social good, as then they would hire more people, pay more taxes, and invest/save their profit.

This approach to business has led to somepexels-photo-large of the highest inequality since the great depression, with the top 1% controlling more than 50% of global wealth, many environmental challenges, and an increasingly disenfranchised workforce. Despite these enormous disruptions, there is an increasing push by key leaders in the business community, government, and nonprofit sectors to increase the role and positive impact of business. Business leaders are increasingly talking about the triple bottom line that business needs to pursue: profit, planet and people. That is a business needs to make money to survive, but that at the same time can have positive impact on the planet and diverse stakeholders. MORE