ICYMI: This summer’s posts on theories of change, systems thinking and innovation

Duncan Green - October 2, 2015

Still dripfeeding in catch-ups on the most popular posts from June-September, when the blog’s email alert system collapsed and some wasters actually went on holiday. There were some good discussions and lots of traffic on how change happens, which bodes well for future book sales. The most read was actually a 2013 post on Theories of Change, but this one, from Oxfam’s James Whitehead, came a close …

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How do we get better at killing our darlings? Is scale best pursued obliquely? More thoughts on innovation and development

Duncan Green - August 6, 2015

Benjamin Kumpf, Policy Specialist for Innovation at UNDP, responds to guest post by James Whitehead published on 24 June. I found myself nodding to most of James Whitehead’s reflections. Particularly: ”I want to be working with people who are passionate about solving problems at scale rather than magpies obsessed with finding shiny new innovative solutions.” Yet, something seemed to be missing, and something more needed …

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What if the best way to be innovative is not to try?

Duncan Green - June 24, 2015

This guest post comes from Oxfam’s James Whitehead ‘Is it innovative?’ ‘How can we be more innovative?’ When asked, my problem, which is slightly awkward as Oxfam’s Global Innovation Advisor, is that I’m not sure how useful the word ‘innovation’ really is. I’ve just written a research paper on the factors that enable or block innovation in Oxfam and one of the things that comes out …

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Why ‘what’s your endgame?’ is a better question for aid agencies than ‘how do we go to scale?’

Duncan Green - January 22, 2015

Maybe it’s partly an age thing, but a lot of senior people in the aid business seem to obsess about scale. What’s the point of running a few projects, however successful? No, the only worthwhile end is ‘going to scale’, affecting the lives of millions of people, not a few hundred. It’s understandable and laudably ambitious, but it can have some bad side effects: It …

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Risk = ‘to dare’. Why funders need to rethink their attitude to risk if they really want to support innovation

Duncan Green - August 8, 2014

Following on from last week’s piece on the role of Foundations, here’s an excerpt from an excellent piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Although it is aimed at Foundations, spending the income from their endowments, it has important messages for others, including NGOs. ‘Risk stands at the center of an inherent creative tension within the field. Endowments, by definition, are tools for conserving resources, …

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I had no idea that working across disciplines (on innovation, complexity and scale) was this painful, but it might be worth it

Duncan Green - April 29, 2014

I went off to New York last week at the invitation of the UNDP Regional Center in Europe and Central Asia to discuss using complexity thinking to design a new ‘Finch Fund’ to support innovation and scaling up. Most scale-up exercises take successful pilots and just try and replicate them (one of the UNDP organizers, Millie Begovic, memorably likened it to trying to turn a …

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How can advocacy NGOs become more innovative? Your thoughts please.

Duncan Green - March 11, 2014

Innovation. Who could be against it? Not even Kim Jong Un, apparently. People working on aid and development spend an increasing time discussing it – what is it? How do we get more of it? Who is any good at it? Innovation Tourette’s is everywhere. Most of that discussion takes place in areas such as programming (what we do on the ground) or internal management …

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Will the next generation of thinktanks be more NGO-friendly? Geoff Mulgan on ‘do-tanks’ (sorry)

admin - November 1, 2013

I don’t often listen to lectures online – in these ADHD times, a 4 minute youtube video is usually my limit (unless it’s Breaking Bad or The Wire, of course). But I’m glad I made an exception for this lecture on ‘how do thinktanks think’ by Geoff Mulgan. No tricks, no powerpoint, just a lot of brainpower. Which is what you would expect from a …

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Should you keep innovating as a programme matures? Dilemmas from (another) ground-breaking accountability programme in Tanzania

admin - October 16, 2013

Certain countries seem to produce more than their share of great programmes. Vietnam is one, and Tanzania appears to be another. After the much-blogged-on Twaweza workshop in Tanzania last week, I headed up North to visit the Chukua Hatua accountability programme. It’s one of my favourites among Oxfam’s governance work, not least because it has a really top notch theory of change (keep clicking) I often …

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What can the aid business learn from Google v Death?

admin - September 20, 2013

Benjamin Franklin famously said ‘nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. Google begs to differ. On both. First it becomes a byword for tax avoidance, and now it’s taking on death too, according to an article on Time Magazine’s techland blog. Time interviewed Google CEO Larry Page on the latest in a growing line of bonkers innovative activities (Google glasses, driverless …

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