The Strategy Landscape Tool Helps Solve Wicked Problems | Beth's Blog

The Strategy Landscape Tool Helps Solve Wicked Problems


Source: Monitor Institute

Monitor Institute and the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) have launched a joint venture to bring a new data visualization tool, “The Strategy Landscape Tool”  to the field of philanthropy.   Created with support from the Rockfeller Foundation, the tool allows users to easily see and understand grantmaking strategies and patterns within and across institutions so they can make better decisions in pursuit of their goals.

This tool is important because it facilitates funders working in a networked way.  Here’s why:

Philanthropy today is called upon to address increasingly complex and interrelated challenges that don’t adhere to traditional geographic, disciplinary, and sectoral boundaries—poverty, health care, climate change, and education to name a few.  They are what design theorist Horst Rittel called “wicked problems”—complicated, continuously shifting issues where neither the problem nor the solution may be clear or stable.

No single funder or institution alone has the resources or reach required to move the needle on wicked problems. Foundations increasingly need to look beyond their organizations to other stakeholders—both in philanthropy and across sectors—to spot the opportunities, understand the challenges, and mobilize the effort needed to address pressing social issues.

Yet while most funders will readily acknowledge the importance of working together, collaboration remains more the exception than the rule. Working together remains a challenge, and simply knowing what other funders are supporting can require time-consuming research, meetings, and calls.

As funders increasingly recognize the advantages of collective action, it is also becoming  clear that “peripheral vision”—the ability to see and develop an understanding of the system in which they operate—is a critical competency. The most successful funders will  work from a rich understanding of their position and role within the ecosystem of other actors, donors, and investors.  And they will regularly refresh their perspective so that today’s arrow is not aimed at yesterday’s target.

Photo gy George Rohrig

I had a demonstration of this tool and what was most powerful was its simplicity.   Much like the blind men in the ancient story, funders see only the part of the “elephant” that their work touches, but cannot easily understand the pieces that others are touching or get a clear picture of the whole elephant.

The tool allows a group of funders working on a particular issue to share data around what they have funded – not just dollar amounts or types of initiatives, but how this links to their theory of change.   The tool creates an interactive map across a problem area that reveals how much as been invested and where the gaps and opportunities are.     It can also be used to look at a single foundation’s program area.

6 Responses

  1. Amelia Murphy says:

    Beth, thanks for sharing this. It’s fascinating, and I can see a very useful visualization. I admit, I do wish it was open source (and it appears at least on the Monitor FAQ that it is something that every foundation would have to purchase their own instance of to utilize). Wouldn’t it be remarkable for philanthropy as a community if all had access to everyone’s data? I love the steps toward collaborative funding though. Nice work to Monitor, CEP, and all.

  2. Gabriel Kasper says:

    Thanks for your interest in the tool Amelia. One of our main intentions with the Strategy Landscape is to help increase transparency in the field, and to help funders of all stripes better see and understand the environment in which they operate. We’ve explored a host of ways to do this.

    Unfortunately, the strategy information that is at the center of the tool exists mostly in the heads of foundation program directors and program officers, and isn’t frequently codified. As a result, it takes work (and therefore cost) to ensure that the tool is populated with high-quality — and consistent — data from across different foundations.

    A tool is only as good as the information that goes into it, so we and CEP are working hard right now to make sure that the datasets are strong and consistent, so the visualizations that are produced are as effective and helpful as possible… which we hope in time will make it easier and easier for funders to understand the larger context for their grantmaking and to work together.

  3. Terri Forman says:

    It would also be smart to share this with the nonprofit community so that they can be in sync with funders–transparency for all, synergy of purpose, empowerment to be part of the dialogue. Just as funders could learn about the larger context for their grantmaking and work together, so too could the NPO’s that are working for deep change. So, perhaps funders who use this tool can share it wit the organizations they fund.

  4. Thanks, as always Beth for finding the nuggets in goldmines, what a great pairing — Monitor and CEP !!

    This will be an incredibly valuable tool for philanthropies to continue to _present_ the value of their investments by showing how collaborative funding and leveraging resources can have impact. An easy to digest visualization and great opportunity to build audience knowledge and buy-in.

  5. Beth says:

    Thanks Margaret. Have you seen the tool in action? It is pretty amazing.

  6. […] identifying wicked problems, and beginning to grapple with smart networked solutions through collaboration, increased dialogue and a future orientation, philanthropists can […]

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