As regular readers will know, I’ve been doing some thinking on ‘theories of change’ recently. A few people have asked me if the change in question is mainly political/social change, or whether it applies to economic developments too. I think there’s a high degree of commonality, so at last week’s discussion on working with the private sector, I took the set of ‘change archetypes’ and strategies below and tried to apply it to Oxfam’s work on livelihoods.
|Archetype: How Change Happens||Change Strategy: What we do|
|Active Citizenship: four powers||Integrated change strategy using multiple approaches (a favourite ToC for work on women’s empowerment)|
|Active Citizenship: People in the streets||Popular mobilization, supporting grassroots organization|
|Active Citizenship: Grassroots leadership||Leadership training|
|Elites: enlightened leaders||Advocacy and elite networking|
|Elites: Technocrats make evidence-based policy||Research-based advocacy|
|Cross-Class: Democracy works||Election campaigns, party influencing, voter registration drives|
|Cross-Class: Coalitions of dissimilar players (e.g. civil society, private sector, sympathetic state officials) drive ‘transitions to accountability’||Alliances and coalitions; convening role; use of power analysis to design insider-outsider advocacy and programme strategies|
|Dynamics: steady incremental progress||Logframe/linear planningIdentify binding constraints, tackling them as priority|
|Dynamics: shocks, tipping points and breakthroughs||Reactive: rapid shift of resources to respond to shocks (financial crisis, Arab Spring etc)|
|Dynamics: contagion, through the power of example||Piloting/supporting new approaches, publicising success|
|Dynamics: non linear and evolutionary||‘Accelerating evolution’: supporting experiments, helping with variation and selection; advocacy for amplification|
Here’s what jumped out in terms of our current work on the private sector:
Active Citizenship: Four Powers
What is it? Focusing on redistributing power within society, starting by supporting poor people to build their ‘power within’ – a sense of dignity, agency and rights, then ‘power with’ – collective organization around common goals, before moving on to ‘power to’ express demands and ‘power over’ those in authority.
How does it apply to private sector work? Lots of work on strengthening producer organizations to improve their bargaining power in markets, and brokering relationships between them and more powerful actors in supply chains.
Elites: Enlightened leaders
What is it? Kind of obvious
How does it apply to private sector work? Direct networking with captains of industry at places like Davos to persuade them to overhaul their business models and practices
Elites: Appealing to technocrats
What is it? Forget the leaders, we need to work directly with the officials who actually do stuff, and show them how being pro-poor can help them achieve their organizational objectives
How does it apply to private sector work? Lots of conversations with mid-level executives about the business case for doing good stuff – staff morale and retention, reputational risk, positive brand image etc
What is it? Often more effective to work in coalitions of dissimilar organizations than to put 100 NGOs in a room to negotiate a joint communiqué.
How does it apply to private sector work? Teaming up with progressive sectors of business and others to lobby governments and less forward-thinking firms on everything from ethical trading to ‘publish what you pay’ to climate change.
Dynamics: Power of example
What is it? Seeing that something works in practice is more convincing than a thousand policy papers
How does it apply to private sector work? Lots of pilots, which we then document and publicise
And what does the table suggest might be missing from or weak in our current work on the private sector? Some thoughts (we may be doing some of these already, but they certainly weren’t prominent in last week’s big cheese discussion)
Democracy works: Campaigns through parliaments or local governments on issues such as access to finance for small producers, the ‘enabling environment’ – infrastructure etc, labour regulation, competition policy or public procurement policies (e.g. the work on smallholder supply chains in Bogotá)
Shocks and tipping points: Hurricane Katrina is credited with transforming Walmart’s attitude to social and environmental responsibility. How many U-turns in corporate practices are down to similar shocks, whether external like Katrina, or internal, like corporate scandals or financial meltdowns? Should we focus more on spotting and seizing those moments of opportunity rather than more linear advocacy strategies?
Evolution: If we were to take evolution seriously, we might try and ‘see like a venture capitalist’, spotting new and emerging ideas in the private sector, supporting and publicising them, spreading them to new geographies and situations, accepting (and learning from) much higher failure rates. We would act as amplifiers rather than do-ers.
So yes, I still think theories of change are useful, and yes, that includes private sector work.