September 28, 2016

Recommended Reads for Transformative Scale: September 2016

This month's reading list includes articles that highlight the opportunities and challenges of using human-centered design in the social sector; research on implementing and scaling interventions through government systems; reaching scale through a platform model and when to cede control to users; using data to address food shortages and pricing problems; and a compelling example of an ongoing transformative scale effort. 

Here are five recent articles from different sectors that I think bring interesting perspective on achieving impact at transformative scale:

1. Diving In: Nonprofits, NGOs, and Design: This discussion between Jocelyn Wyatt (@jocelynw) of and Jeff Wishnie (@jwishnie) of the UN Foundation’s Digital Impact Alliance highlights the opportunities and challenges of using human-centered design in the social sector. These tools—“designing with and for the human/user/beneficiary”—have huge promise for helping to create more effective and more desirable (and therefore scalable) interventions. This piece offers interesting thoughts on some different approaches for embedding them in a social sector organization.

2. How do you scale up an effective education intervention? Iteratively, that’s how: World Bank economist David Evans (@tukopamoja) writes about some important research on implementing and scaling interventions through government systems. The research paper he discusses, which is largely focused on the efforts of the fantastic education NGO Pratham (@prathamusa) and Indian government schools, shows the power of using impact assessments to iterate toward an improved “2.0” intervention. More of this type of implementation-focused research is needed!

3. From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg—The Transformation of Business: Mark Bonchek (@MarkBonchek) writes about how leaders reaching scale through a platform model must learn where and how to cede control of the platform to its users. He describes a “‘one-to-many” dynamic for distributing information that emerged with the printing press. In today’s platform models—which thrive by connecting “many-to-many”— hierarchy gives way to networks, and processes to principles. As the business world shifts to these more dynamic, relational models, I can’t help but wonder what the potential of these models might be for scaling in the social sector. (Yet it feels like we have just begun to scratch the surface.)

4. In the Fight Against Hunger, Technology Brings Power to the People: Beth Simone Noveck (@bethnoveck) writes about potent efforts to end hunger by using data to address food shortage and pricing problems. The systems changes necessary—from data transparency policies to mechanisms for crowdsourcing stakeholder data—to generate and exchange this kind of information on a large scale are significant, but there is also tremendous potential for using data to address system problems of this type at scale.

5. Can This Data-Driven Organization Help Those Most Desperate Escape Life on the Streets?: Finally, this profile of the work of Community Solutions (@cmtysolutions) offers insight into a compelling example of an ongoing transformative scale effort. Community Solutions has brought a data-driven approach to attempting to end homelessness, blending local action with a platform for comparing and sharing data, and embedding learning and improvement in their systems. Intriguingly, “because of this emphasis on data, Community Solutions increasingly thinks of itself as a tech company.” An exciting read with implications for many.

You can find a range of posts about transformative scale, including past installments of Recommended Reads, on our blog. I also Tweet regularly about transformative scale: @JeffBradach.

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