Saturday, April 26, 2014

Disruptive Change and Questions for Humanitarian Organizations

In 2013, The International Civil Society Centre (ICSC) in Berlin sponsored a working group on Disruptive Change and international civil society organizations (ICSOs), in which IFRC participated. The result of the group’s work was the “Riding the Wave” report released at the ICSC Global Perspectives conference in Johannesburg the 13-15 November 2013.

The focus of the Johannesburg conference was “Navigating Disruptive Change”. Over 100 senior executives of ICSO local NGOs attended. My top three take-aways from the conference were:

  1. Disruptive change is about scale, speed and surprise; the point being that it is hard to plan for, but imperative to be flexible and agile for.
  2. The topic of disruptive change has gone main-stream; no ICSO leader doubted its relevance, threat and opportunity.
  3. The regional NGOs in Africa were strong and vocal that large ISCOs in the north need not start programs or open new offices in the south; they need to partner with those already present. This is in itself a disruption for traditional ICSOs who are ripe for disintermediation if not embraced.

For further food for thought, I've developed a list of discussion questions, below, for executives to ask themselves in light of the coming wave of disruptive change.

High-Level Questions from the Disruptive Change report

Taking the next steps section of the “Disruptive Change” report, here are twenty-one high-level questions/problems that are faced by International Humanitarian and NGO CEOs...

  1. What disruptive technology change has impacted other sectors that could potentially impact the humanitarian sector?
  2. What technologies are on the horizon that may impact our organization?
  3. Have others taken a cooperative approach to service and program delivery that has worked particularly well? Have we?
  4. How have we used a positive mindset to embrace disruptive change as an opportunity rather than a threat?
  5. What types of leadership skills and approaches are needed for periods of rapid change?
  6. When and how has adaptability trumped preparedness in handling disruptive change such as disasters?
  7. When has organizational humility been a greater asset than organizational pride in times of massive change?
  8. When and how have we chosen to be a disruptor rather than prepare and wait for disruptive change to happen?
  9. What have been the keys to an externally focused rather than introspective organizational culture?
  10. How have we increased the speed of decision-making and what impact has it had?
  11. Where have we taken on significant risks in order to get greater returns?
  12. How have we upped the rate of experimentation and become more failure tolerant?
  13. What upgrades in knowledge management have paid off for our organization?
  14. Where have we been successful in making our organization’s disciplinary and organizational boundaries more permeable?
  15. Active disruptor, opportunistic navigator, or conservative survivor; which strategy has worked for us? Will it continue to work?
  16. Do we have global decision-making governance in place to make rapid decisions when a crisis hits?
  17. How can International Civil Society Organizations better use the opportunities of taking a virtual approach in implementing our missions?
  18. How has our organization become more resilient to political disruptions, threats to civil liberties, and crises due to climate change?
  19. How have think-tanks and industry organizations increased our resilience?
  20. What big questions are we not asking that we should?
  21. How would we uncover the new, unasked questions? 
For this last question, here are some thoughts: Hang out with youth, fieldworkers, gurus and early adopters: The question is better asked as whom should we be talking to? 

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