This is the third in our series of blogs on our new strategy. Read the first on where we’re headed in the new strategy here; and the second on what we did not achieve in our last strategy and what that means for us going forwards here. By Blair Glencorse.

The content of a strategy is important, and a nice shiny new strategy document is potentially a useful output, but not if it is only going to gather dust on a bookshelf or be used as a doorstop. Through our process we have become even more convinced that a strategy is not something you “have”, it is something you “do”. The way we have thought about our new strategy throughout is as a way to better understand what we do and why; to generate ownership of the ideas and of the organization among the team and board; and to use it as a tool for active decision-making.

The strategy process to date has involved five steps over the course of 2019:

  • Initial reflection from the global teams on approaches, progress and challenges to generate lessons and ideas from the past 8 years of work;
  • A global strategic retreat of our Country Directors and Global staff to gather inputs and ideas because we realized that there is nothing more valuable than talking about all of this face-to-face;
  • Inputs to the draft strategy from our teams and Board to further refine the approach based on experiences on-the-ground and to ensure local priorities were reflected;
  • An open feedback process with the public, peer organizations and other stakeholders through dissemination of the draft strategy through a Google document that was open for comments and through which we received over 100 contributions, ideas and suggested changes;
  • Sign off from the Board on the new strategy.

Honestly, we have struggled as we’ve grown with creating a shared understanding across very different teams, contexts and experiences of what we are trying to do. But this strategy process is beginning to get us there. And we see where we are now as really just the first phase of the process, rather than reaching any kind of end-point. Going forward we will do the following in phase 2:

  • Work with our Network Labs to localize the strategy over the next three months to see how they can best understand how it can guide their work in their specific contexts. Local Accountability Lab Boards will then sign off on these new, local strategies;
  • Host a second strategic retreat in mid-2020 with our senior staff and Country Directors to reflect on implementation and to gather ideas for possible adaptation or changes. We will formally review progress but also informally work to understand what additional support might be needed to improve;
  • Review the strategy in late 2020 and revise approaches or ideas as necessary, while also looking to actively share lessons from implementation across Network Labs. We will also look at whether the strategy still fits with our operational plan and how we may need to adapt the capacity, systems and goals we have in place globally;
  • Ongoing strategic learning sessions with our Network Labs around their experiences adapting and implementing the strategy across contexts and regular “Open Board Calls” in which we will discuss the challenges and lessons of implementation.

All of this is to try and make sure our strategy truly allows for internal alignment of our work, in the ways Dave Algoso has pointed out. Given the pace of change these days – both broadly in political terms and more narrowly in relation to accountability – we have to remain adaptive and ensure a strategy that allows us to be so.

In practice this means we will continue to collect data in any way we can to support operational decision-making; demonstrate what our values mean in practice (through our work to adhere to the Global Standard for CSO Accountability for example); and prioritize understanding which pieces of our strategy are most important and when. All of this also relates to financing so we’ve tried to be realistic and match our strategy to a feasible budget. But we also recognize that in the non-profit sector, where donor priorities can be fickle, we have to be prepared for financial challenges and understand what this might mean for our strategic goals.

The process itself has no doubt been flawed, for example, we did it all ourselves when an external facilitator might have helped us to understand our own biases. And our new strategy is by no means perfect – there are certainly things we could improve. But from here we’re going to focus on the implementation rather than the document itself.

Read our full strategy here.

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of Accountability Lab.