I’ve always benefited from learning from colleagues who do nonprofit technology training and capacity but often we come from the same perspective. I’ve always dreamed of accessing a diverse network of people who do nonprofit capacity across different disciplines or what Nancy White has described as “learning from adjacent practices.”
This would be a network or community of practice that freely shares and learns from one another about training and capacity building that is participatory, peer-learning, networked, makes use of design thinking, openly shared and a prelude to collective action. The subject matter, of course, the effective use of digital and networks that is holistic and that incorporates on culture change, innovation, and collaboration skills.
That’s why I was inspired to read this recently published report “Today’s Challenges: Training and Capacity Building,” written by Sara El-Amine for the Mobilisation Lab in partnership with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. (I was interviewed for the report).
The Mobilisation Lab (MobLab) has existed for a few years as the internal innovation lab for the Greenpeace’s campaigns globally. In January 2017, as the MobLab moved to expand its mission to serve the broader global progressive movement and become a stand alone entity, they commissioned the report to address these two questions:
- What would a globally connected, thriving capacity-building ecosystem for modern advocacy and campaigning look like?
- And how could MobLab best support the creation and/or health of that ecosystem?
The reports defines many challenges, but through the research and interviews, there was critical alignment around this all familiar problem:
“Capacity builders and trainers in the global progressive space are too few and too disconnected to fulfill current demand in supporting social change leaders, practitioners, and activists. Furthermore, many practitioners and individual advocates in the space don’t know about fellow organizations serving similar purposes or filling complementary gaps. As a result, duplicative work abounds, and there is lack of alignment around sector-wide gaps.”
The report goes on to identify 7 more specific challenges facing capacity builders and trainers who work with various social change movements and campaigns in detail and definitely worth reading the report:
- Desegregation and diversification of the progressive movement
- Funder misalignment on movement needs
- Lack of platforms through which to network laterally
- Lack of platforms/resources to facilitate innovations
- Lack of shared definitions and shared language
- Dearth of resources/cultural practices around curriculum sharing
- Need safe and supported spaces for difficult movement conversations
The conclusion discusses the need for a more vibrant, networked entities working in concert to “build the capacity of capacity builders” to avoid repeating mistakes made in isolation. Going forward the MobLab will be working collaboratively with capacity builders to further define this challenge and pilot solutions and new projects.
Michael Silberman, director of the MobLab, wrote this reflection on the report on MobLab’s blog, outlining some pilots and opportunities for collaboration. I’m particularly interested in these three ideas specifically that revolve around reflection, learning, and sharing.
- Develop peer learning opportunities: Many interviewees felt that incentives were misaligned across progressive organizations to facilitate meaningful reflection on what’s working and what’s not. We heard near consensus around the lack of support for entry- and mid-level staff/volunteers, in particular, to admit key mistakes and crucial lessons learned.
- Surface innovations more effectively: Participants observed that some of the most exciting campaigning was happening “outside of the typical slate of progressive institutions.” Movement members and leaders alike cited the absence of effective forums for exchanging these reflections and learnings.
- Develop shared training curriculums, resources: Most participants acknowledged a lack of entry-level programs or available trainings for digital advocacy and other modern campaigns skills. “I’m not sure where to go for tools to train my team, and it seems like the people at the top who should know these things aren’t sure either,” one practitioner summarized.
MobLab is moving forward to support the initial stages of this work, working collaboratively on a number of projects (see the full list here) and initiatives.
If you do capacity building and training on advocacy for social change, especially in the digital area, does this resonate with you?