Test It! Lessons we are Learning

February 28, 2017

I continue to work on a global project that focuses on the significant change that is impacting the civil society / NGO sector and developing and testing some new initiatives to address these changes which I first introduced on my blog last year. This work of the project is being done by diverse and global working groups, working primarily virtually.  As we all move towards more virtual work to conserve our resources, deal with increasing travel restrictions and reduce our carbon footprint, these process lessons may be of interest to other similar efforts.

As our Steering Group worked to design the project some of the initial lessons we learned from other efforts included:

  • Spend time on your ‘pre-conditions’ including challenge/strategic direction, people and resources.  Taking the time to do this – building a foundation – is not ‘wasted’ time. (This preliminary work can take a few years, be patient).
  • Commit to your strategy, while trying different tactics and approaches (“radical tactical flexibility”).
  • There’s a difference between new tools and approaches that help to optimize what you already do and those that are more transformative (paradigm shifting), and it can be easy to confuse the two.

Additional lessons can be found here.

As we have moved from just having a Steering Group to also having our first issue focused working group (on youth engagement) some additional process learning thus far includes:

  • Our networks are smaller than we would like to think. We need to be intentional about reaching beyond our usual groups and bridge-building.  There are often many others working on common issues (who we may not be initially aware of) that we can learn from and collaborate with.
  • Paradigm change, like other types of changes needs practice to change our mind-sets and normal behavior patterns. This may call for strong and creative facilitation to encourage people to not fall into accustomed tracks but continually step off of them.  We also need to be intentional when we want to keep a focus on holistic/ecosystem discussions –it is very easy to get quickly siloed (climate change, youth issues, economic justice, human rights, etc..) when they are all interconnected.
  • Bonding a new group virtually and online facilitation skills are different than our in-person knowledge and practices and can be a challenge. For example, it can feel easier to walk away from an hour videoconference meeting than a ½ day or full day meeting where you actually have to commit to going somewhere. Once on-line, activities (such as sharing personal information or icebreakers for the group to get to know each other need to be streamlined). And without the benefit of being able to read some of the nonverbal communication among group participants, facilitators and attendees need to actively work at surfacing feedback that may happen more naturally in-person.
  • Cross-generational dialogue (actually listening and adopting some of the ideas from a different perspective) is something that hasn’t been written about as much vis a vis diversity and inclusion. Especially when it comes to significant organizational and societal change, blending the lessons of ‘veterans’ with the enthusiasm and perspectives of younger generations can be a potent combination.