If you only read one thing this week…

Getting in to sticky situations by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

The book, Made to Stick: Why some ideas thrive and others die by Dan Heath and Chip Heath isn’t directly about the world of humanitarianism but the issues it looks at are fully relevant to us as we strive for both scale and sustainability in our programs. If we could really understand what makes ideas live on (and/or what kills them) and then apply it to our programs we would really be on our way to making a difference. The book outlines six principles for successfully getting an idea to take hold – summarized in the link below.

To read more about the book and decide whether you want a copy yourself read either this review from Time magazine or this summary.


Building Trust in Emergency Response Teams by Rob Neal
March 26, 2009, 8:37 am
Filed under: organizational learning

“What is trust?  Why it is important in team performance?  What increases or decreases the level of trust in a team?  How can leaders build high levels of trust and effectively manage trust in a team? “

Two publications that are part of a multi-agency program to build capacity in emergency response, the Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB).  ECB’s Building Trust Project attempt to answer these questions,  and to offer methods for measuring, developing and managing trust in emergency response teams.

Scoping study

The first publication is a Scoping Study by the Building Trust in Diverse Teams Working Group.  This group is led by Oxfam, with representatives from Mercy Corps, CARE, Save the Children, and World Vision.

The goal of the study was to “collate and summarize what is presently known about the culture of trust with particular reference to diverse teams operating in emergency situations; to identify factors that can influence levels of trust; and to develop methods of measuring trust.”

A variety of methods are used to look at trust in teams: scholarly works, methods for measuring trust, interviews, and more.  The sum of their efforts are recommendations and guidelines for tools and interventions.


The second publication is a book (or PDF) called Building Trust in Diverse Teams: The Toolkit for Emergency Response. This publication builds on the work completed in the scoping study and other research complied as part of the Building Trust Project.

The authors lay out their goal in the preface, to “create an accessible and versatile set of tools that will be used across the sector to improve team effectiveness during an emergency and to improve our ability to save lives–the primary driving force behind this work.” In the book you will find tools for trust measuring and building, including the “ten criteria for trust.

The ultimate goal of both works is to make teams more cohesive and effective during an emergency.

Qualitative or Quantitative – which is better? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

For anyone interested in understanding the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods this website hosted by the Web Center for Social Research Methods. All too often we get into fruitless debates about which approach is better, whereas both are equally valid approaches and more important is to determine which approach is better for the research you are looking at conducting. The bite size chunks and easy navigation make this is a useful site to peruse and then bookmark. Highly recommended!

How do we learn in 2008? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium has just posted a report on a survey of over 6000 employees on how they learn and preferred methods. A summary is posted here and the full article which has interesting graphs in it is also available to download from the site. The survey discovered that most employees currently rely primarily on self learning and motivation and pick up new knowledge from reading, web searches and/or e-learning on line. A lot of people are using sources such as YouTube but are not necessarily using podcasts as they aren’t easily accessible from work. Only 48% of people are satisifed with the amount of time they have available to learn and I would be interested to know how this maps against our own organizations. We have invested time in creating placeholders for learning, but whether people are taking the opportunity to make this happen (or prioritizing over all the competing things we are asked to do) would be something to explore. Perhaps most interestingly for me, people seem to overwhelmingly want to have job stretch/rotation opportunities and yet don’t feel that these opportunities exist. I wonder if this would be the same finding if we just looked at the humanitarian world, where it seems as though there are numerous opportunities (maybe too many) to rotate through different jobs fairly rapidly. I also wonder if these are much more accessible to international than to national staff. Anyway the article gave me food for thought and is worth looking at.

Measuring Your Mission – Is it Possible? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

Any of us interested in the complexities, challenges and successes of macro-level measurement that tells us at an agency level whether we are making progress (or not) towards achieving our mission, should check out The Bridgespan Group. This non-profit consulting group helps agencies get closer to results measurement in a number of different ways. Although their focus is US domestic agencies, the papers that they have published are relevant to those of us in the international humanitarian field. In particular I liked a study entitled Great Valley Center: A Case Study in Measuring for Mission that talks about how they helped the Great Valley Center start to measure it’s results at the macro level. Interestingly, a recent study by the Independent Sector identified that nearly 60% of the nonprofits surveyed said that the results of at least some of their programs were too intangible to measure. Now that sounds familiar!!! Even if you aren’t interested in the specifics of the case, the generic challenges and potential solutions outlined are (I think) applicable to all of us.

What makes nonprofits successful? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

The book Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits feels like the nonprofit equivalent of From Good to Great by Jim Collins that has so influenced the private sector in recent years.

For those of you who don’t have the time to read the book, Fast Company’s review provides a succinct summary of the six key findings that Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant discovered as they studied the 12 most successful nonprofits over a three-year time period.

In brief (but the article is worth reading as it fleshes the six points out a little more), successful nonprofits:

1. Don’t just implement great programs, they connect it with advocacy.

2. Connect in with market forces (don’t just rely on trying to ignite altruism!).

3. Engage others outside the agency to be passionate champions of their work.

4. Work collaboratively through networks with other nonprofits.

5. Learn to adapt (this seems the most obvious of the findings to me!)

6. Ensure that leadership doesn’t just reside with one person in the agency.

It is interesting to look at where (and where not) the intersection exists with this and the Good to Great approach. The book makes reference to the fact that management structures did not appear to be a critical success factor for these 12 NGOs. Also something which feels a little counter intuitive.

Organizational Change – why we fail by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
October 18, 2007, 10:46 pm
Filed under: If you have 30 mins, organizational learning

This article by David Chaudron starts with a fun parable about three villages trying to build a bridge across a chasm and why two of the three villages fail. The bridge represents the creation of change. It is an interesting (and brief!) explanation of some of the obstacles to organizational change and, as someone who is often working to help implement change, it is good to have some of the pitfalls pointed out. The biggest challenge that resonated with me is that we often start trying to implement changes without having a clear idea of the big picture and what we are trying to achieve. It lays out some pointers that I will take into consideration before my next major project!