This month we’re launching the first phase of a three-phase process to build and automate our collective-strategy platform (pdf). You’ll probably notice nothing more than a minor front-end redesign today, but there’s a bit more happening on the back end that will make it easier for us to move forward in the short and long terms.
I’ve already explained the conceptual innovations and foundational research behind our approach to large-scale social change. That brief introduced the capabilities a platform like this would need to be useful for collective action against complex problems. Here I want to explain the changes we made to the website this week and how they relate to our long-term vision for the platform.
First, a note on some terminology we use to describe our work—this doubles as sort of a quick-and-dirty tutorial of what we do:
- A collective strategy can be understood literally: the strategy needed to collectively achieve a large-scale goal (like “end trafficking” or “overcome divisions in our society”). A strategy is a theory of success, so a collective strategy spells out what specific factors (e.g., variables) would need to change in society, by how much, and who has influence over them, then offers a way for changemakers to collectively decide how to use or scale up that influence and fill any gaps in the overall effort in order to be successful.
- A system model is a visual or mathematical representation of everything that significantly affects the problem that a collective strategy is trying to solve (a strategy, or theory of success, can also be thought of as a model of success). Visual models of systems are sometimes called system maps or ecosystem maps (a good example is here). Mathematical models can be based on system, agent, network, statistical, or other quantitative methods. We tend to use system dynamics models because they have the ability to capture full-system knowledge in a fairly flexible way, but we like using multiple methods as a more reliable way to test ideas about how collective strategies succeed.
- An initiative is something the Foundation for Inclusion launches to build a collective strategy for achieving a well-defined goal related to a specific social problem (e.g., “make progress against sex trafficking in Atlanta”). We don’t use the word “project” because projects tend to be one-and-done deals and we don’t see our work as having an expiration date: we “initiate” work on a social problem and continue that work until it is resolved—a long-term (but not indefinite!) commitment.
- A portal is sort of “mission control” for a collective-strategy initiative, an online world where changemakers can get a fast, real-time view of progress against their collective goal, see how their work fits in to the broader effort, and make course corrections informed by scenario-testing and other business-intelligence tools. The key tools are available at no charge to registered users; more advanced tools are offered on a subscription basis. A portal launches a few months after an initiative launches, because it takes a few months to build the models and directories that make the portal content possible.
- Our impact accounting service becomes available once a high-quality system dynamics model has been built for a specific initiative; that model makes it possible for anyone working on any aspect of that initiative’s problem to discover, quantitatively, how their work affects system-level changes and is therefore a rigorous way to account for individual contributions to collective impact.
- The platform is simply the back-end and front-end (pdf) technology, processes, and methods we use to make all of the above possible.
With those concepts in mind, here is a summary of the rollout of our collective-strategy and impact-accounting platform, which is happening in three phases:
- Off-the-shelf tools and services (blogging, subscription management, dashboards, etc.) so we can hit the ground running on collective-strategy initiatives (addressing specific social problems) we’re already launching.
- Customized back-end data and knowledge management platform (with better front-end design and user experience) so we can collect and use data more efficiently, launch new collective-strategy initiatives much more quickly, and begin offering the impact-accounting service to changemakers participating in our initiatives.
- Automated processes for orders-of-magnitude improvements in the development and visualization of collective strategies so changemakers can launch collective-strategy initiatives themselves and build their own impact-accounting dashboards.
Phase 1 is launching today. The goal here was to quickly set up the ability to blog, manage subscribers, build web pages, and collect data. There is nothing fancy about the back end or the front end because with one or two exceptions we don’t intend to use this particular combination of services for more than a year: WordPress for content management (yes, we know!), NeonCRM for data management (love the product, hate using it, can’t wait until their UX reboot!), and Neon Inspire for web hosting and data integration (plus Forio and/or Kumu for data visualization and simulation). But these off-the-shelf tools make it possible for us to quickly if manually put together the portals that make collective strategies usable. A login will become available as soon as our first portal is ready to launch!
Importantly, Phase 2 will be taking place in the background starting next month and likely lasting through the year, hopefully getting rolled out piece by piece as new components are built and tested. It will include a complete build of the information architecture, which will make it easier for us to manage data, collaborate on model-building, and more easily test the simulations and other tools we’ll need for collective strategy and impact accounting in the short term and automation in the longer term. Probably a new user interface won’t get rolled out until closer to the end of the year because we’ll want to do a lot of usability testing for a really good user experience. The data architecture will be designed so that as we move into Phase 3 the data will already be structured for automation of our model-building and other processes.
This might not be the most exciting thing you’ve read this week, but as the head of an organization with big ambitions I’m excited for any opportunity to make my job easier—especially when it positions us to actually launch our first initiatives! We still have a few more partnerships to put in place before funding is secured for our first initiative to launch, but we’re moving forward in the background and you can expect to hear exciting news soon!
Thanks for supporting us on this journey. Please feel free to drop me a note any time.