January 26, 2017

Optimally merge bottom-up people power and top-down directives

Being super receptive to what people wish for and have to offer is great. But being nimble without a clear strategy is useless. It’s your role to allow for an optimal interplay of people determining strategic decisions wherever possible and taking a stewardship approach when it is necessary to ensure overall responsibility and effectiveness.

1. Crowd source strategy – let others tell you where you add greatest value

You may want to look at a few examples of strategy processes which were based on large consultation rounds among members, supporters, donors, beneficiaries, partners, activists, etc. As part of their Big Conversation, Restless Development received 5,000 online and offline submissions from 64 countries paving the way for launching their Global Strategy in 2016. Amnesty International’s Strategic Plan 2016-2019 followed a similar approach with consulting more than 26,000 diverse stakeholders from every corner of the globe. When developing ARTICLE 19’s new strategy, each office and team was asked to complete initial SWOT and PESTEL analyses that included gathering feedback and perspectives from external stakeholders.

2. Set efficient rules for people’s engagement

People will only engage in strategic decision taking processes if the rules of engagement are clear to avoid disappointment later. Avaaz recently asked its members if they should take their feedback as a binding mandate or just as guidance. 75% voted for the latter option. To facilitate and aggregate a potentially very diverse range of feedback, Plan International used Synthetron when crowdsourcing for their strategy. Idealware also offers some useful tools and advice for CSO crowdsourcing.

3. Adopt a purpose that allows for diverse contributions of others

While it is important that people know what an organisation stands for; it is also important to adopt a mission that leaves room for very different actors to contribute to achieving it. Good examples include VSO’s bringing people together to fight poverty or Kiva’s connecting people to alleviate poverty. The aim is clear but there is a multitude of ways to contribute towards the shared cause from poor people, donors, supporters, partners or the public to raise their voice against poverty. The purpose creates an environment within which many can thrive to achieve the shared cause.

4. Ensure to set success indicators for people’s buy-in

Spell out concretely in your theory of change what active people engagement means and why it is pivotal to achieving your purpose. 350.org for instance aspires to build a grassroots climate movement with the power of ordinary people. Success should be measured with quantitative indicators like number of followers, signatories or participants. It is crucial however to also monitor qualitative indicators like the deepening of relationships with people over time. For this purpose, Greenpeace uses the engagement pyramid.

5. Facilitate continuous adaptation

The strategic plan is dead. Long live strategy, argue Dana O’Donovan and Noah Rimland Flower. They call for a new strategy model based on experiments not predictions, pattern recognition not data collection and comprehensive not top-down implementation. The International Civil Society Centre for instance has adopted a rolling strategy. It provides a broad set of objectives for the long term and is reviewed quarterly and adapted when bigger shifts happen.

6. Know what people and partners think!

Regularly ask partners, staff or donors to rate you from 1-5 on the questions below. Add one open question for qualitative feedback. Compare results over time.

  1. Do you know and share our two most important strategic ambitions?
  2. Do they reflect your priorities to achieve our shared purpose?
  3. Do you feel we listen when deciding on strategic priorities?