Game-Changer Strategic Mapping Tool for Networks?

Posted by Steve Waddell in M&E, Net Dev on January 4, 2011

A proto-type of a new mapping tool called The Strategy Landscape™ (SL) is available for viewing.  “It has the potential to be a real game-changer for the field,” explains John Branam, director of programs at Grantmakers for Education.

SL promises to help networks working in “issue arenas” (corruption, forestry, water, health, etc.) develop more effective strategies and efficient application of resources.  It visually presents information about organizations’ strategies, and financial resources being applied to support them.  By gathering these two types of information from organizations working in an issue arena, along with other information like geography they are working in, relationships between numerous organizations can be better understood.  This will help identify duplication, important gaps, opportunities for working together and potential synergies.

SL is an online interactive visualization tool, developed by Monitor Institute with support from the Rockefeller Foundation as part of their initiative to accelerate innovative practices in the social sector.  Its development has been piloted with a group of climate change funders, and you can play with the tool to see how easily it generates pictures about relationships.

Monitor’s Gabriel Kasper says that the tool was originally developed for private funders.  But they recognize that it can be helpful for many others…and they are looking for pilots that are not categorically in the philanthropy space as well as with fundes.

I remember talking with bi- and multi-lateral funders in Madagascar about their strategies and was astonished to learn there was so little collaboration or even knowledge about what each other was doing.  With SL, that could be addressed.

Multi-stakeholder networks could find the tool useful by gathering similar data from their members and others working in their issue arena.  Perhaps the best pilot for them would be in a specific geographic area, such as a country or collection of them.

Gabriel’s team first collected financial data and created a list of strategic categories.  Of course different funders used different ways to describe their program strategies, so part of the value of the exercise…and also some of the touchy part…is to create a collective understanding of the set of strategies in an issue arena.  For the climate change funders, the 16 strategies include:

1.     Smart growth and transportation

2.     Agriculture

3.     Coal-related emissions

4.     Energy efficiency

5.     Renewable energy

6.     Adaptation and resilience

7.     Policy change

“We don’t think it’s perfect,” says Gabriel about the maps the SL generates for the climate change fundrs.  “But we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  And if we get it 80-90 percent right, that’s more than they’ve got now.  And we will tweek it as we go.”

Gathering the data to generate the initial maps was quite a task.  Gabriel estimates the cost was about $150,000.  But keeping the data-base up-to-date will be a relatively simple task, now the categories and reporting frameworks are defined.

Of course one of the weaknesses is that financial expenditures are only one indicator of energy applied to a specific strategy, and this could be further refined by collecting other data like person days spend on a strategy.  But financial is probably a pretty good proxy for amount of effort.

Personally I find one of the biggest attractions of this approach is that it helps people think systemically.  And if the data-base is kept up-to-date, it will be such an attractive source of information that organizations operating in an issue arena would undoubtedly reference it when doing their own strategic planning.  This in turn would create a much more coherent collective strategic planning space, hopefully creating a virtuous cycle of ever-improving information as this “strategy commons” becomes better understood and organizations become more willing to provide information for its development.


Comment on this item
  • Jem Bendell January 10, 2011 at 15:52

    I think Strategy Landscape (SL) may become very useful for NGOs to see who to approach for grants.

    Also it could help donors see what issues/areas are not being funded so much. But the implication of that is debatable… Often tools are used to justify decisions, rather than to inquire further… the nuanced complex insight of a professional working in the climate change space, for instance, if helped with structured reflection processes, would be much more powerful than people with less insight using a tool like the SL. Where I see a tool like SL helping with strategy is if helps suitably experienced and insightful professionals to spot their possible assumptions and their blindspots, by giving new quick data on distributions of grants.

    For the climate change example it appears to be using a typology of sub issues, rather than strategies per se (such as to raise awareness, build capacity, etc) so it doesnt say so much about strategies, which are rather difficult to neatly categorise, although some of us try to at times (as we did with civil society strategies in Terms for Endearment). So, for a strategy commons, we would need disclosure of strategies… and some organisations dont actually know what their change strategies are…

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