Rethinking Change and NGOs as Social Labs

Zaid Hassan, author of "The Social Labs Revolution: A new approach to solving our more complex challenges"will be an opening speaker at ECF 2014

Zaid's book "The Social Labs Revolution: A new approach to solving our more complex challenges" (with a back summary as "Why planning is killing us and prototyping will save us") forms the basis of his challenge to all of us about how we approach change internally and externally, but will also resonate with our growing recognition of the need for experimenting as central to success. What Zaid does is take this up to the societal and planetary level and give us new language to talk about other strategies for change.

The premise and proposal

The premise of Zaid's book is that the world, and the problems we are trying to solve (and thus our organisations and their ability to address them) is getting more and more complex. And yet our approach to change has stayed relatively the same: plan smarter, try harder, grow bigger, etc. It isn't working (e.g. according to research I saw somewhere, we've lifted more people out of poverty than ever before, but there are more poor people than ever before because of population growth and resource limitations).

What Zaid proposes (and he has plenty of excellent examples) is that we need not only to plan/research our way to solving problems, but we need to experiment our way to solving them, and do more of what works, less of what doesn't and stop doing what has worked when it stops working!

So what is this relevant to ECF?

  1. Because most of us are working to achieve change goals and it is important how we do that
  2. Because the more established organisations are struggling with keeping up in the digital works, and part of this is they don't experiment enough (frequency and volume)
  3. Because we have great examples in our midst of organisations who DO take this approach (even if they don't recognise it or call it that) and are making a difference - examples further below).

So this will be relevant to people at ECF 2014 following the Digital Leadership steam, the campaigning stream, the fundraising stream and the Future Forum stream.

How Zaid was chosen

Zaid is a friend from before FairSay, ECF and Oxfam time from back in my days of doing my masters degree and working at UBS (shock! horror! Its on my LinkedIn profile!). We share many ideas and values about the world and the urgency of change, and took different routes. When I was in Oxford checking out the ECF 2014 venue, I arranged to meet him as I hadn't seen him for 10+ years and we were just catching up about life and what we were doing.

During the course of our conversation I was mentioning what I thought makes Greenpeace, Avaaz, 38Degrees and others so successful (experimentation) and how Yemen's collapse was a foreshadowing of the world if we don't achieve energy sustainability (Yemen's problems accelerated with the decline in their oil production and they had few economic alternatives). Zaid seemed to have the same examples for demonstrating his case in the book - and it was then the idea of inviting him to speak came to me. I had been looking for someone to talk about a big idea larger than how to X better (which is also important) that could inform how we as a community work for change, and I think Zaid has one aspect of that.

So - Zaid is available and willing and will stick around for both days of ECF - and be able to challenge us (and us him) on how we achieve change as individuals, as organisations and as a community!

(and we'll record his presentation on video to share with those who can't join ECF 2014).

by Duane Raymond published Feb 27, 2014,
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