#15 Dichotomy by design

Image of three coloured macorons

As I begin another exciting week it is important to reflect on the one that has just gone, especially with last week being so special!

Mid February 2016 saw the launch of the ‘Practical guide to understanding social costs: Developing the evidence base for informed social impact investment’. This was a joint working project led by Impact Investing with probono support by Deloitte Access Economics.

I remember in September 2014 at the launch of Impact Investing Australia being part of a group discussion on how best to tackle the discussion of outcomes in the investment space. If not careful such a discussion can become almost ‘scope less’ as where do you stop or more to the point where do you start!

We were fortunate to have the wise words of Rosemary Addis who led us along this journey drawing on her experience and international leadership in the social impact agenda. On a regular basis we were reminded that we needed something tangible or nothing would get done!

On a personal level during this period in time so much has happened including analysis of my PhD fieldwork and creation of #GoodSave (demonstration case study of the merger/acquisition between Good Beginnings Australia and Save The Children Australia). Both of these experiences have heavily influenced my thinking particularly around measuring social outcomes within societal wicked issues. Along with these experiences I was fortunate to be a member of the Impact Investing working group that informed the information contained within report launched February 2016. As a group we recognize that this report presents as a base to build on accepting that it represents the start of something – how exciting!

It is with this in mind and amongst all the excitement that I apply some caution especially as the suggested tools get turned into action. My caution is not so directed to the report on its own. It represents a broader dialogue and one I find myself having on a regular basis or what I refer to in my research – a ‘dichotomy by design’.
We need to be careful we don’t advocate being in an emergent state or emergent strategy whilst using known linear methods (JMT 2016).

To further explain this tension I shall describe what I mean by the statement of a ‘dichotomy by design’. This has much to do with the differences between being complex and/or being complicated. This is not new but a good reminder as:

Complicated: If a system can be given a complete description in terms of its individual constituents (despite a huge number of components), it is merely complicated (Uhl-Bien & Marion 2009 p632) e.g. jumbo jets and computers are complicated .

Complex: If relationships in a system cannot be fully explained by analysing its individual components because they are not fixed but shifting and changing, it is complex (Uhl-Bien & Marion 2009 p632) e.g. mayonnaise or choose any societal wicked issue.

In summary to set a design or strategy that is linear for something that is non linear and constantly changing is setting your self to fail. The failure is described as a dichotomy because it forces a division into two opposing groups where neither can be satisfied. I argue that more often than not this situation occurs at the design stage. A shift can be made and the dichotomy completely dealt with if an enabling leadership approach creates not only the space to encourage spontaneity but to keep the structure focused on the outcome (with flexibility as to how it is achieved).

Interestingly a recent commentary around Strategic Philantropy for a Complex World also argues the limitations of strategic philantrophy. This article being inclusive of the co-authors of the Collective Impact Framework (Kania and Krammer) was clear to state the need for adaptive leadership, a problem solving approach and highly structured cross-sector collaborations which all require a non linear emergent strategy approach – rather than predictive strategies.

As I have written in my previous blogs, my research findings have shown, to be emergent entails three discoveries set within a leadership style that is enabling. If the project you are working with is complex and you are applying predictive strategies with administrative linear leadership approaches then prepare for limitations!
Without loosing any support or energy for the work of Impact Investing Australia and Deloitte I write to encourage that future use of this great report be set within an emergent strategy rather than a predictive strategy. I encourage all that use this guide to start from a logic model that places the outcomes first. Ensure that the strategy you begin with is emergent and not predictable. Be clear on the end point and open to how the organizational structures, systems, evaluation of impact and development of culture have room to shift.

Finally I know this Blog challenges the logic model (as we know it) but in an environment that is calling for an enabling leadership approach this might just be the very stance that is required to lead social change into the next stage of its journey!

As part of the podcast series I have been most fortunate to spend time with some more Australian leaders exploring how they have had to STRADDLE™ the tensions between structure and spontaneity. Complementing the work of Impact Investing I look forward to sharing the thoughts of Rosemary Addis in early March 2016.



Uhl-Bien,M. and Marion, R. (2009) Complexity Leadership in Bureaucratic Forms of Organising: A Meso Model Management Department Faculty Publications University of Nebraska – Lincoln



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