Note from Beth: I’m thrilled to take the opportunity to learn more about how nonprofit causes can embrace the principles of the lean start up movement. In December, I’ll be covering the Lean Start Up Conference in San Francisco and in January I’ll be a judge and attend the Lean Impact Summit in SF. Recently there was a webcast hosted by the Lean Start Up Conference about implementing lean impact with Christie George of New Media Ventures and Akash Trivedi of Kiva.org who discussed how they apply lean to social good.
My colleague, Anne Whately, who works for Network Impact watched the web cast and offered to share what she learned:
Notes from the Lean Impact Webcast by Anne Whately
The Lean Start Up approach has appealed to me from the first time I heard about it. As someone who has worked on web and digital projects for the last 15 years I have watched even the best laid plans require evolution as the project unfolds. This usually leads to discussions of “scope creep” and “change orders” as well as feeling pressure from funders to meet targets and goals originally outlined that may no longer fit with the project’s direction. The Lean method advocates for creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), testing it in small ways and building on what was learned to create something that really addresses audience needs and minimizes wasted effort and resources.
I now spend more of my time evaluating communications and digital projects so, I read with interest Lean Analytics, the book in the Lean Start up series on measuring what matters. The principles were useful but I found it difficult to translate the case examples into concepts for the social sector. The webinar earlier this week from the Lean Start up team, Lean Impact: Implementing Lean Startup in Mission-Driven Organizations, did begin to address this gap with a discussion and examples from Akash Trivedi of Kiva Zip, a pilot program from the nonprofit Kiva and Christie George from New Media Ventures.
One example Christie gave was describing the origins of Louder. It started with the idea to test the hypothesis that people would contribute small amounts of money to buy advertising for causes they care about. Upworthy was another example mentioned as a hypothesis tested by the MoveOn team to see what social issue content could go viral. Akash, from Kiva Zip’s “skunkworks” team (I love all the fun terms) talked a bit more about how they worked, as a small group of people who develop something quickly outside the normal organizational process. There was not time to get into detail on these examples, but they got me thinking about how I could apply this approach and whet my appetite to learn more about both of these cases.
The presenters also rightly noted a need within the social sector to shift the culture of philanthropy to adjust to more fluid planning processes based on general goals but with flexibility in programming and metrics that emerge through analysis rather than being known from the start.
When asked about metrics, cost of new users was mentioned as one that challenged organizations to really drill down into the how and why of where their users, new and loyal, come from. This strikes me as a metric that would be easier to compute and apply for some projects or programs and a real bear for others. Akash also talked about using net promoter score as a proxy or short term stand in for a measure of impact to help the team get a sense of if they are moving in the right direction since their feedback loop is long. That brought up questions for me as to whether a metric based on responses to a question about the likelihood of referring others really gets at impact, even in the short-term or interim (seems more like customer satisfaction.) That said, finding the most effective measures for impact can be a tough nut to crack and we are still in the early stages for the field so the good news is that people are thinking, writing and talking about better ways to measure social change outcomes.
If you are interested in more, Meg Rullis’ guest blog post had more examples of changemakers using Lean Start Up methods and the Lean Impact site includes an “Ultimate Dictionary of Lean for Social Good” that does include definitions with examples that I think could be useful to someone who wants to get acquainted with the method or to share with colleagues to help explain it.
Anne Whatley is a consultant with Network Impact providing advice, research and tools to support social change networks, foundations and the emerging field of network builders and is an Advisor to Cause Communications.