In June, Helene Wolf suggested in this blog post that “strategy and culture should have breakfast together…” Her comment was made following an International Civil Society Centre -sponsored meeting of programme, policy and operations directors in which participants discussed how to increase the impact of their organisations and their work. Peter Drucker’s observation that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” when strategy and culture are not aligned surfaced more than once during these discussions.
Indeed, in our work with International Civil Society Organisation (ICSO) leaders over the past few years, we have found that failing to make the necessary adjustments to the existing culture when introducing a major change or executing a new strategy is one of the top six hazards to which ICSOs are most susceptible. Sometimes this failure is due to a lack of appreciation for the critical role that culture plays in helping or hindering realisation of change; other times, it is due to the leader’s hope that the necessary culture change will somehow take care of itself. In our experience, when it is not specifically attended to, culture inevitably undermines or even defeats full realisation of the change or strategy.
To circumvent this hazard, leaders need to understand the components of organisational culture, as well as when and how to attempt to change it so that it will support their changes or new strategies. In our latest paper, we define organisational culture — “the way we do things around here”— as the patterns of shared mindsets and behaviours which have been acquired over time by members of the organisation. Culture provides guidance, whether intentional or not, on what is done (or not), how it is done (if it is), and why it is (or isn’t) done. Culture permeates every organisation and plays an important role in providing a strong foundation for organisational success in stable environments. This is because culture operates in ways that ensure its own continuity. Thus, when an organisation needs to maintain the status quo, the culture that has contributed to that current state helps to keep everything on track. However, when a major change or disruption requires a shift in the prevailing mindsets and behaviours, the organisation’s existing culture will likely work to defeat it.
Before introducing a major change or executing a new strategy, ICSO leaders need to identify the mindsets and behaviours that are critical to fully realising the desired impact of the change or strategy, and assess to what extent these mindsets and behaviours are present in the existing culture. The greater the gap between the existing culture and the one required for full realisation, the higher the risk of not achieving the desired change outcomes and the greater the effort in making the necessary cultural shifts.
Leaders also need to assess the strength of the existing culture. Strong cultures that are inconsistent with the new change or strategy can present formidable challenges to leaders’ attempts to change them. In these cases, shifting the culture may prove too great a challenge or may exceed the organisation’s capacity to change at that point in time. The alternative to changing the culture is to “change the change” itself in ways that lessen the gap between the existing culture and the one required for successful realisation of the change.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many important initiatives cannot be accomplished if they are significantly modified. When this is the case, rather than change the change, leaders may have no other choice than to change the culture.
Culture change should not be taken on casually, nor should the potential need for it be deferred or ignored. Shifting cultural norms is one of the most challenging endeavours an organisation can undertake. Regardless of the final decision—to change the culture or to change the change itself—leaders need to be mindful of aligning the mindsets and behaviours of their organisation with those required by the change or new strategy. Otherwise, they face almost certain disappointment and frustration in not fully realising the intent of their organisational changes or strategies.
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.
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 of how:
Plan International is leading the way in developing a digital birth registration tool. Its aim is to help register the millions of undocumented births around the world to lay the groundwork for better health care, education and access to other government services. The system draws on mobile phone technology to reach people and places that governments fail to document, mostly due to the lack of resources.
Caroline Buckee, a Harvard University epidemiologist, used the data of 15 million mobile phones in Kenya to demonstrate how human travel patterns contribute to the spread of malaria. Based on this data, she helped pinpoint where best to focus government efforts to control malaria.
The Centre-hosted project Leave No One Behind is combining smaller data sets to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Using evidence collected by ICSOs in four pilot countries, the goal is to identify the drivers of exclusion in local contexts, and support joint advocacy that will encourage governments to be accountable for their SDG promises.
Blockchain is a network technology can complete any kind of transactions or verification processes in a transparent way. It is a distributed ledger that everyone can view. Thus a transaction, sending a data block (hence the name), is viewable to all and not reversible or modifiable, making Blockchain transparent and accountable.
Many CSOs and social entrepreneurs are using Blockchain technology to increase the efficiency of their operations or increase accountability around the social issues they aim to tackle. Here are a few small examples:
Disberse facilitated the transfer of donations to a school in Swaziland using Blockchain-based technology, saving £375 in international bank transfer fees. The United Nations World Food Programme distributed cryptocurrency-based vouchers to 10,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Blockchain can be used to track and verify interactions between different actors around the globe. Bext360 and Fairfood International aim to ensure fair wages and prices for producers and farmers by monitoring the entire supply chains of coffee, coconuts and other products.
These are just a few examples of the way Big Data and Blockchain are being used to innovate in the civil society sector and beyond. We want to discover more ideas, case studies and stories with our partners, colleagues and friends from across civil society. We also want to look at some of the challenges that come with the use of these technologies: How do we ensure that data is properly secured and not misused? How do we design projects in an inclusive way and increase the number of people who benefit from technological opportunities?
The Innovators Forum will be a starting point, but we will cover different aspects of digitalisation and digital technology through the year 2018. If you want to get involved or share your own work in this space, get in touch!
Thanks to Bond for the inspiration for this article.