Scrappy VS Strategic: Is there a generational divide in nonprofits around how to innovate using new technology? | Beth's Blog

Scrappy VS Strategic: Is there a generational divide in nonprofits around how to innovate using new technology?

Digital Strategy

Photo by Ceclcia Aros

Note from Beth: I’m working in Dubai this week and have lined up some guest posts from some colleagues.    Daniel Ben-Horin from TechSoup Global wrote a thought provoking post over at the SSIR about generational differences in nonprofits when it comes to trying to scale social change strategies using social technologies.  It prompted some great discussion and I hope you’ll participate.

Scrappy VS Strategic – Guest Post by Daniel Ben-Horin

I loathe the cloying mock humility of the twitterverse (“so honored that @important person says I am an important person”), so it is with some reservation that I write that the comments on my recent SSIR post about ‘scrappy and strategic’ have just blown me away. Thanks, Beth, for asking me to write about this conversation here.

I thought the original post was pretty good. You can decide for yourself. It riffed off a diverse European trip I had just taken and broached a fairly simple idea — that there was a generational divide in terms of thinking about change, and that maybe this divide was bigger and more important than was generally realized. I hadn’t seen that particular idea much discussed, so I thought I’d just throw it out there.

As of this writing, there are 13 responses (ok, two are from me) from people who work (in some cases lead) the Morino Institute, Random Hacks of Kindness, TechSoup Romania, CROS, Meedan, the Gates Foundation, Beth Kanter, Campus Party USA, Vulcan Labs, and Fundacja TechSoup/Warsaw Social Hackathon. That’s quite a range, but what really counts is what they had to say. They took my fairly simplistic expostulation and gave it some real depth.  Here are some excerpts:

The tension between generations on scaling social change ideas with technology.

What I love about these (youth driven, hackathon) events is the optimism, hope, raw ability and potential for a home-run in a networked tech-environment that can accelerate to tangible and scalable change in a relatively short period of time. … I love that they are going to do it with or without us.

What I don’t love is seeing the same solutions built over and over again (though I certainly see value in youngsters figuring out for themselves).  What I don’t love is the lack of data they face, lack of support in nailing down specific problems, and that they have to go back to school on Monday.Chris Worman, Restart Romania

There appears to be a growing tension between the Baby Boomer generation that is in large part responsible for our current state of affairs and the young people coming out of schools and entering the labor markets.  They are our hope and our challenge.Mario Morino, Morino Institute

On the generational issue—and I’m speaking a baby boomer myself —I think we no longer can consider ourselves to have wisdom because we have experience.  We need to switch to a “co-learning” role with younger leaders – and learn from them together as we make change.  And that isn’t easy for a lot of us who were born in the babyboomer “Me” generation to shift and work alongside the “We” generation.Beth Kanter

What does strategy and how to scale mean to different generations?

We are starting to see this new era when thousands upon thousands can actually think and act together in technologically enabled collaboration…I think we see and feel a tension … not because there is an inherent dichotomy and tension between scrappy and strategic, but rather because we haven’t figured out how scrappy becomes a critical component to healthy and robust strategic vision.Todd Khozein, Random Hacks of Kindness


That’s not to say we don’t use objectives. We just don’t hinge on them so much that it cripples our options or blind us to new perspectives. Instead we hinge on values as drivers for our action… It’s a great time for this dialogue: the baby boomer generation has accumulated a lot of resources and is also at a point where it’s asking (again) the big questions and addressing the big issues in the world. In the same time, young people are the most connected, best informed and empowered generation ever, mostly due to new media and technology. Vlad Atanasiu, Resource Center for Student Organizations (Romania)

The tension between real time data tracking and longer-term tracking

There is much excitement and interest in measuring/tracking/using data in real time to shift course on emergent, collaborative, and innovative efforts.  At the same time, we see a huge emphasis and need to “scale what works” in the field which implies rigorous measurement that PROVES what works.  It’s completely possible to do both within the same organization, but I don’t think people are always clear about when they are using measurement and data to “sense-make” vs. “case-make”.  Totally different set of measurement tools and skills needed. We need to be very informed and focused about what types of data, measurement, and evaluation we need for the stage of the intervention.Victoria Vrana, Gates Foundation, Charitable Sector Support

But after you have concrete proof that your McGuyver solution works – and Lean Startup metrics can definitely help measure that – you’ve got to invest time, energy and money into making sure you have the capacity to scale and consistently deliver a high-quality amazing service with a solid team. …I think the answers to resolving some of these tensions lie in technology and a new philosophy of management…. more and more startups – especially ones with a young leaders at their helm – are turning to an open management structure and philosophy that emphasize speed and a meritocracy of ideas over bureaucracy and micromanagement.Lucky Gunasekara, Vulcan Labs

There is a recipe here which involves open data, open code, and access to the movers and shakers needed to provide access to important data and infrastructure.Ed Bice, Meedan

Freedom is needed for innovation in nonprofits – how can we feel comfortable with that?   Also, how we facilitate our networks and sharing control to solve complex problems.

For innovation to happen a lot of “freedom” is required—creativity and a group process both take time and flexibility. Time is money and flexibility makes people uncomfortable.

Facilitating a community driven effort also means giving up power and handing it over to the social actor(s). Now: giving up power. That just sounds like becoming vulnerable and threatens everyone.Alicja Peszkowska, Fundacja Techsoup/Warsaw Social Hackathon

I have the strong feeling that more and more people all over the world -and a greater number amongst the youngest- are now working with this common and somewhat unspoken ideal of a better world -one with less violence and more justice, respect, and work for others’ well being as much as for ourselves.  We are many with many unique ideas that may seem isolated and technology is not only enabling them but may also connect them by what they have in common; that is the vision.  Maybe that vision has to be written and shared to take us to the next level. Juan Negrillo, Campus Party USA

I think being scrappy is the key to engaging with the communities you’re serving, feeling and understanding the problems they’re faced with, and McGuyver-ing a disruptive (bias – technology driven) solution. There’s no way you can strategic plan your way to that.  –  Lucky Gunasekara, Vulcan Labs

These are just excerpts from the posts; I hope they provide a flavor for the dialogue. Please check out the full comment stream. And, of course, please add yours.

Note from Beth: Also be sure to read Daniel’s post on innovation in the nonprofit sector.

Daniel Ben-Horin founded TechSoup Global in 1987 and is co-CEO.

2 Responses

  1. […] to the post are very insightful, so much so, that a friend asked him to post some of them on her Blog.  The comments are from various individuals around the world working for different NGO’s.  The […]