Thursday, September 03, 2015

Building Public Will - Essential

I scratched out the outline for this story a couple of days ago as I was riding the train and thinking about the challenges we face in solving complex problems like poverty. I hope you'll follow along with my thinking.

This graphic is part of a strategy graphic that shows the planning steps needed to solve complex problems or role out a new business strategy. See the full graphic and explanation here.

Every year, millions of dollars are spent by social benefit organizations trying to attract resource to support their work. The money is spent directly on fund raising, marketing and public education. It's spent indirectly on training programs and consultants.

Regardless of where an organization operates or what cause it focuses on, we're all competing for a slice of the same donor pie. That pie seems to be shrinking, either because of economic circumstances, or because of the rise in organizations competing for a share of the pie. Natural disasters that occur randomly around the world exert a huge pull on discretionary donor dollars every time they happen.

Thus, it's unlikely that great programs, doing similar work, but in different places, will be available in a large percent of the places where such programs are needed. Since 1993 I've piloted uses of maps to show where non-school tutor/mentor programs are most needed, then using the maps to influence donor support of programs in every place where the map shows programs are needed. In recent years there is a growing application of mapping and data visualization (see blog). However, I still don't see many who are trying to create maps of all service providers doing similar work in areas where that work is needed. Such maps would show a poor distribution of needed programs. Over time it would show change as new programs launch and some go out of business.

It's also unlikely that many organizations will attract on-going dollars to enable them to provide long-term support. In youth development, this is a serious issue. Kids take 12 years to move from first grade to first job. If they are living in high poverty areas, the support system needs to reach them early and stay with them through school and even into work. Such support systems are needed in many, many places.

What's the solution?

Building public will is step 7 on this map. Each step is important in solving complex problems. However, until more people from different places, with different talents, and different levels of influence get involved in brainstorming ways to build public support and keep it growing, I don't see many long-term solutions emerging.

I created this graphic (see article) to illustrate that while we want to help social benefit organizations and clients use the resources available to achieve their missions and/or overcome challenges they face, we also need to influence what people who don't live in poverty do to help them. This can include direct support such as funding, or public policy. It can also include indirect support, such as removing barriers and obstacles.

Some (but certainly not all) of the actions we need to be focusing on include:

a) constant education of the public so they have deeper understanding of the problems and places where strong, constantly improving, social benefit organizations are needed

b) innovation of on-going advertising-type campaigns to influence what resource providers do

c) build growing understanding of how current systems of philanthropic and government support are not working.

Just a small growth of the resource pie every year could make a huge impact on the availability of needed social benefit organizations (including tutoring/mentoring organizations) in more of the places where they are most needed.

Building public will requires champions and leaders from every sector, in every city of the world. I'm certain that this discussion is taking place. I'm just not sure where this is an on-line forum, a cMOOC, or part of a web library that points to a wide range of places where this is being discussed.

Use the comment section to provide links to open, on-line forums, Google groups, or cMOOCs that you're aware of, where "building public will" is the focus of the group. Or introduce yourself to me on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

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