Over the course of 2012, Humanity United engaged in several projects aimed at bringing new models of thinking inside our office to ensure that our strategy is consistently informed by emerging ideas both within, and outside our fields of work. Some of these models, such as design thinking and scenario planning, have long been fixtures in business and government circles, but are now finding new applications in philanthropy. Others, such as big data, are newer to the private and nonprofit sectors alike. Here’s a look at four thinking models that we’re using to help inform our work.
FIELD OF ORIGIN: MILITARY
PARTNER: GLOBAL BUSINESS NETWORK (GBN)
How do we achieve the greatest impact in an increasingly globalized and resource-constrained world? We engaged GBN in a scenario-planning exercise to explore how anti-slavery groups might effectively work together over the next 10 years, and what Humanity United’s role might be in activating these partnerships. As a result of this process, we are challenging ourselves to foster greater collaboration through both loosely linked and tightly coordinated networks, and to share this learning with partners, donors, and others in our community.
FIELD OF ORIGIN: OIL
PARTNER: PALANTIR TECHNOLOGIES INC.
Can big data help peacebuilders better understand the conflict landscapes in which they work? In 2012, we partnered with Palantir Technologies Inc. to test whether quantitative analysis could help us generate and test various hypotheses about how and why the conflicts in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions are unfolding. Using Palantir’s data management software, our team collected open-source field data (think U.N. reports and satellite imagery) to create a central repository for analysis. Early analytical results will take shape in Spring 2013.
FIELD OF ORIGIN: ENGINEERING
PARTNER: DAYLIGHT DESIGN
What is the purpose of a foundation Web site? Before investing in an overhaul of HumanityUnited.org in 2012, we looked to design thinking to provide insights that could answer fundamental questions about the purpose of a foundation’s online presence, and to help us create a Web site that had our key stakeholders in mind. Brainstorm and sketch sessions generated fresh approaches to better serve our grantees and partners and to increases transparency into our operations. The six-month exploration resulted in a prototype of guiding principles and tools that will inform a 2013 Web site redesign.
FIELD OF ORIGIN: SYSTEM DYNAMICS
PARTNER: TRIAD CONSULTING GROUP
How can systems thinking help foundations improve their program effectiveness in conflict areas? We teamed up with Triad Consulting Group to apply systems thinking to the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The pilot exercise challenged us to think differently about how we construct our strategy—from information sources and the questions we ask to how we bring that information together in an informed and unbiased way. This process helped our investments team to better understand where Humanity United can make the most effective impact in the future.
Ongoing learning exercises helped to make improvements in our grant-making strategy this year, as well as how we work with grantees. Two initiatives—a 2011 evaluation of our early-warning program in Liberia, and feedback from a 2010 grantee survey—created tangible changes to our grant-making and process over the last year.
IN MARCH 2011, Humanity United hired an external evaluator to shadow the HU-supported Liberia Early Warning/Early Response Working Group over a one-year period. The objectives of this learning exercise were threefold:
The resulting report also included recommendations to Humanity United on how to effectively move forward with our conflict early-warning grants. Those recommendations directly influenced more than half of our conflict early-warning grants in 2012.
1. Strengthen working group members’ research capacities and their application of acquired knowledge to program development
Grant: Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia/Justice and Peace Commission
2. Continue support to County Peacebuilding Committees
3. Increase focus on early-response mechanisms at the county and district levels
Grant: TrustAfrica/Peacebuilding Office
Grant: Fund for Peace/Liberia Democracy Watch
LAST YEAR’S PERFORMANCE REPORT highlighted the results of a grantee survey led by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. In 2012, we continued to change the way we do business in response to that feedback as part of our efforts to listen to the needs of those we seek to serve. The results can be found in three key initiatives:
Annual Performance Report: We learned from grantees that we weren’t clearly communicating our goals and strategy. As such, in January 2012, we launched our first annual performance report to provide better clarity on Humanity United’s strategy and programs, and promote transparency about the performance of our activities. The desire to provide better clarity continues today with the 2012 Performance Report.
Strategic Organizational Objectives: To better articulate Humanity United’s strategic goals beyond our annual program objectives, our team carefully constructed three-year Strategic Organizational Objectives in 2012 that now guide our programs and operations through 2014.
Streamlined Grant-making Process: Grantees felt they weren’t being treated equally or fairly by our grant-making process. Throughout 2012, we undertook an extensive evaluation of that process, with an eye toward making it simpler, more transparent, and more efficient. The result is a new grant-making structure we’re currently piloting, with a more public rollout expected later in 2013.
WHAT OUR GRANTEES CAN EXPECT IN 2013
The new structure will improve clarity in the following areas of our grantmaking process:
1. What’s required
Reducing the number of required documents
2. When it’s required
Being clearer about what materials are required and when
3. When to expect a response
A commitment to be more timely in responding to prospective grantees
4. Clearer decision-making
New guidelines to clearly articulate our decisions and how they are made
5. Improved internal reporting
Beefing up our internal reporting ability to better inform decision-making