What Problem Does FFI Solve?

Along with “What exactly… IS the Foundation for Inclusion?” the question of what problem we solve is one we get asked a lot.

It’s sometimes hard to explain, because the answer isn’t quite as simple as “mass incarceration” or “sex trafficking.” Those are social problems we help other organizations figure out how to solve collectively, and our approach makes it possible for us to take on just about any social problem. (“Wait, what? How is that possible?” is another question we get a lot.)

But when people ask “What problem does FFI solve?” they are usually looking for the kind of answer a startup would give: what problem is your customer trying to solve and how do you solve it for them (i.e, what’s your value proposition)? In that sense, you can say the Foundation for Inclusion (FFI) serves two general “customer” segments with different problems:

    • People trying to make the world better need high-quality, cutting-edge, useful information about how societies change so they can make smarter strategic decisions.
    • People who do research on how societies change need a place where their models can actually be used to make the world better.

We clear that market (working closely with both segments) by stress-testing research models against real-world challenges, transforming the best ones into real-world strategies, and repeatedly testing and refining both the models and the strategies so changemakers can continuously keep up with new developments in the field.

For some, that answer sounds too academic (to which I’d respond: well, yes, if you want to help vulnerable people in the real world, you’d better have hard evidence that the things you’re proposing to do can actually work, and high-quality academic research is designed to provide hard evidence).

So let’s be a little more hard-nosed than the general answers above and talk about four specific problems we solve.

1. The wrong investments

Funders (foundations, philanthropists, impact investors, government agencies) spend millions of dollars to make permanent progress against some major societal problem. But while their grantees might be doing good work on the ground, their work doesn’t seem to be adding up to collective success: the problem isn’t going away.

Strategic reviews are sometimes undertaken to identify the kinds of investments that could make the biggest difference. But the reviews aren’t always systematic or rigorous enough to inspire confidence in the results: the identified priorities might make intuitive sense, but are they really based on a credible and comprehensive theory of success?

  • FFI’s 7Q method is a comprehensive and systematic approach to identifying the right investments for strategic (system-level) success.

2. Uncertain impact

Funders want to know not just whether their full portfolio of investments is making permanent progress, but also whether their specific investments are making a difference. But impact evaluation is difficult and expensive to do properly, and most grantees don’t have the expertise or resources. So when reporting their impact, they tend to focus on the activities they’ve undertaken and maybe quantify some of their immediate results. But some, under pressure from their funders, also end up exaggerating their contributions to larger-scale impact, using evidence that ignores the complexity of the problem space and basing their theories of success on unsupported and often fanciful assumptions.

  • FFI’s impact accounting service solves this: once we’ve applied our 7Q method to a particular social problem, we can rigorously measure or predict the system-level impact of any organization working on any aspect of that problem. For that reason it’s useful for both impact assessment (“will this project work?”) and impact evaluation (“did this project work?”)—as well as for planning and for course corrections along the way.

3. Low morale and isolation

Changemakers (nonprofit organizations, social enterprises, activists, movement leaders) tend to focus their efforts on some small part of a larger problem, because the problem itself is too complex for any one entity to see as a whole, much less influence. Even in cases where their on-the-ground work is effective, they sometimes aren’t sure how their work really fits in to the bigger picture, which can feel isolating. Because the problem also doesn’t seem to be going away, it can get demoralizing wondering whether their (usually underpaid) work is really making a difference at all.

Adding to that emotional pressure, they usually need to demonstrate real impact to secure funding to continue their work, but as observed earlier, they have neither the time, resources, nor expertise to do impact evaluation properly. And it can be further demoralizing when they feel pressure to exaggerate their impact because they think they need to tell their funders what they want to hear.

  • FFI’s collective-strategy platform solves this problem (for anyone working on a social problem we’ve applied our 7Q method to) by giving changemakers free access to a portal that shows them exactly where they fit into the bigger picture and offers strategically useful content that helps them better articulate the role they play.

4. The replication crisis in science

Scientists have recently recognized a serious problem: a lot of what we believe to be true about the world is based on scientific research whose results have never been successfully reproduced. The problem is not only that specific studies have turned out to be wrong; the problem is also that nobody really knows how much of what’s been published is erroneous. There simply are not enough resources or incentives for scientists to replicate already published research (and especially unpublished research).

In cases where public policy and organizational strategies are based on erroneous research, there can be severe consequences to real people. In most cases, however, researchers put a lot of effort into building and refining a model only to see it get published in a journal read by a few dozen people—never to be replicated, never to be used to make the world a better place.

  • FFI can’t solve all of science’s problems, but we can take research that’s relevant to the social problems our collaborators are taking on (human trafficking, mass incarceration, political polarization, etc.) and give that research a second home on our collective-strategy platform. There, scientifically derived models can be replicated, combined with other models, tested against real-world conditions, iteratively revised and refined, and shared with changemakers in a way that makes everyone comfortable that the models underlying our collective strategies are sound.

Hard Problems Can Be Solved

These problems are solvable and we’ve found a way to solve them—by clearing the market between researchers who have strategically useful knowledge but desire purpose, and changemakers who have purpose but need strategically useful knowledge. This isn’t an academic solution: it’s an actionable solution.