You see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The “wicked problem” construct, developed by University of California—Berkeley academics in the 1980s, describes systemic challenges that have no easy solution. It recognized that all solutions to wicked problems entail a new set of problems, and that leaders must take responsibility for all outcomes, good or bad. Today, the wicked problems framework has become an important leadership approach used by business and social sector leaders around the world. We have modified it to reflect the results of our own research and lessons from our own experiences to give social investors a framework, which we have called “Deliberate Leadership,” to help them tackle complex issues.
doing good through deliberate leadership
Begin at the beginning: deliberate leadership survey and assessment
When social investors come to us to help them do good we—in the words of Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland—“begin at the beginning.” We begin with values, beliefs, and culture. We examine how culture is operationalized within an organization. We use 360-degree and organizational surveys to assess whether an organization has the capacity and the culture to take on wicked problems effectively.
We look at seven indicators of readiness to act:
Courage. Does the organization have the courage to take on problems to which there is no easy answer, and is it willing to fail and learn from failure?
Collaboration. Externally, does the organization use and reinforce command and control, or is it collaborative and adaptive? Internally, does the organization have a history of strong, diverse teams?
Candor. Does the organization reward and encourage honesty about failures as well as success, and is this openness embedded in the fabric of the organization?
Creativity. Does the organization imagine what-if scenarios, to understand potential barriers to and accelerators for change?
Capital. Does the organization value and deploy human and financial capital in innovative ways?
Compassion. How do people relate to each within the organization and to external partners—is it supportive or egocentric?
Community. Is there a strong community within the organization where silos are broken down and synergies created and information shared, and is it willing to listen to insights from unexpected places?
These strategies are also put in the context of social, economic, and political factors that will also impact outcomes.
Chances are that if the answer to these questions is no, even the most brilliant program strategy will flounder in the face of messy complex problems.
deliberate leadership: analysis of three phases of learning
We walk our partners through the following phases, which are tied to iterative, reflective learning:
We apply this learning process to our own work as well as to the development of practices and products with
Below are visual images of the steps we use with our partners.
plan and partner
Map landscape of potential partners. We work with our partners to map the landscape of stakeholders within their organizations and in the communities in which they seek to work.
Listen to community. We help assess how our partners are building communities both within their organizations and in the communities they seek to serve. We help them understand whether they are devoting enough time to assessing what might be working (or not) so that lesson can be incorporated into ongoing work and shared more widely with partners/stakeholders and with the field. Positive Deviance is an important example of deriving knowledge from unconventional sources.
Assess threats and opportunities through scenario planning and UNDP threats analysis.
Develop a learning framework and theory of change
We work as a group with clients and partners to assess theories of change and logic models and to understand the expectations of all stakeholders in the process.
Figure 5: Partnership and Planning Logic Model
We then collect information with the impacted communities through interviews, surveys, storytelling, and focus groups, to understand how they have experienced programs and strategies on the ground (see Figure 6 below). Our goal is to fully align what funder/investors offer and experience with what the stakeholder community expects and experiences.
Figure 6: Inside-Out Funder and Stakeholder Alignment Process
Finally, we walk through the dynamic learning loop with clients and partners to bring together assumptions and actual experiences, confront barriers to progress, and refine strategies to move forward with new perspective and understanding.
Figure 7: Double Loop Learning Process assesses deep, value-based learning
[i] Rittel, H., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155-169.
[ii] Such 'unlikely suspects' are referred to as Positive Deviants. Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.
Figure 2: Lamisi Circle Context Mapping
Figure 3. Threats and Opportunities Analysis
Figure 1: Three phases of Deliberate Leadership® to promote openness in grantmaking
Figure 4. Theory of change