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The Foundation Review

Complexity

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Lost Causal: Debunking Myths About Causal Analysis In Philanthropy, Jewlya Lynn, Sarah Stachowiak, Julia Coffman Sep 2021

Lost Causal: Debunking Myths About Causal Analysis In Philanthropy, Jewlya Lynn, Sarah Stachowiak, Julia Coffman

The Foundation Review

What if philanthropic evaluations told us that changes in the world had occurred, as well as how and why they occurred, including in what ways foundation funding and grantees contributed to those changes? What if evaluations made change pathways more visible, tested hypotheses and assumptions, and generated new insights based on what happened in the “black box” of systems change strategies? This type of learning comes from causal analysis — inquiry that explores cause-andeffect relationships.

Yet currently in philanthropy, particularly for strategies and initiatives that feature high complexity, few evaluations use robust techniques for understanding causality. Instead, philanthropic evaluation tends …


Learning Amid Disruption: Bouncing Forward Into A Changed World, Rachel Reichenbach, Jewlya Lynn, Jen Heeg Sep 2021

Learning Amid Disruption: Bouncing Forward Into A Changed World, Rachel Reichenbach, Jewlya Lynn, Jen Heeg

The Foundation Review

The philanthropic sector has come to recognize the importance of bringing a systems lens to its work, seeking to influence upstream drivers of complex problems, and being adaptive in its approaches instead of implementing static, multiyear plans. Yet, integrating these concepts into practice continues to pose a challenge.

Humanity United — a foundation dedicated to cultivating the conditions for enduring freedom and peace — had been grappling with this charge when the disruption caused by COVID-19 led it into a crisis response mode in 2020, similar to many other philanthropic institutions. That disruption also challenged our old ways of being, …


Enhancing Funders’ And Advocates’ Effectiveness: The Processes Shaping Collaborative Advocacy For Health System Accountability In South Africa, Barbara Klugman, Waasila Jassat Mar 2016

Enhancing Funders’ And Advocates’ Effectiveness: The Processes Shaping Collaborative Advocacy For Health System Accountability In South Africa, Barbara Klugman, Waasila Jassat

The Foundation Review

This article describes the roles of five advocacy groups that built collaborative initiatives to address the collapsing health system in South Africa.

The findings presented are based on retrospective reviews of annual reports, organizational evaluations, interviews, and focus group discussions with each of four participating organizations and existing literature on the fifth.

The key findings, for both advocacy groups shaping alliance strategies and for funders, are that flexible funding and a shared value system among groups with diverse capacities, constituencies, and reputational resources is a good approach for enabling adaptive and innovative strategies for holding the public sector accountable.


Emergent Learning: A Framework For Whole-System Strategy, Learning, And Adaptation, Marilyn Darling, Heidi Guber, Jillaine Smith, James Stiles Mar 2016

Emergent Learning: A Framework For Whole-System Strategy, Learning, And Adaptation, Marilyn Darling, Heidi Guber, Jillaine Smith, James Stiles

The Foundation Review

The field of philanthropy is exploring what it takes to achieve impact in complex environments. The terms “adaptive” and “emergent” are beginning to be used, often interchangeably, to describe strategies by which funders can tackle complexity. This article proposes distinguishing between the two and explores more deeply how the research into complexity can inform philanthropic practice.

While approaches like systems mapping, scenario planning, and appreciative inquiry have been put forward as useful approaches to expanding perspectives and seeing whole systems, the field needs a framework for going beyond these planning tools in order to actually create the conditions in which …


Eyes Wide Open: Learning As Strategy Under Conditions Of Complexity And Uncertainty, Patricia Patrizi, Elizabeth Heid Thompson, Julia Coffman, Tanya Beer Jan 2013

Eyes Wide Open: Learning As Strategy Under Conditions Of Complexity And Uncertainty, Patricia Patrizi, Elizabeth Heid Thompson, Julia Coffman, Tanya Beer

The Foundation Review

· Foundation strategy is hampered by a failure to recognize and engage with the complexity and uncertainty surrounding foundation work. This article identifies three common “traps” that hinder foundation capacity to learn and adapt: 1) linearity and certainty bias; 2) the autopilot effect; and 3) indicator blindness.

· This article urges foundations to alter their mindset, questions, and processes to foster a more committed approach to strategy and adaptation. In essence, it argues for learning as strategy.

· This article draws on literature from systems theory, business strategy, and philanthropic practice as well as data from foundation benchmarking surveys.