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Beware of silver bullet solutions looking for problems to solve

Research called Reimagining the Bermuda Third Sector was released last week, looking at future options for Bermuda’s non-profit organisations. Rebecca Zuill looks in detail at what the report says.

Anand Dholakia is quite clear. “Bermuda’s Third Sector stakeholders have shown a clear, long-term commitment to achieving a Bermuda that works better for all.”

But Mr Dholakia, a principal associate with Washington-based Community Science and one of the rsearch project leaders, was critical of the sector’s stakeholders, saying: “Too many third sector strengthening efforts approach their work backwards, beginning with a silver bullet solution that goes looking for a problem to solve.”

He added: “These solutions may be selected based on any number of preconceived assumptions around (sic) third sector to address, which may indeed exist, but should not be confused with the root causes behind the social issues that third sectors aim to address.”

Twenty-six Third Sector-associated respondents were interviewed for the project which showed that a majority of those questioned believed network building could help facilitate collaboration, data collection and sharing, training and advocacy.

Those taking part in the project also saw value in sharing resources, such as data, infrastructure and services, with administrative services as the most useful resource to share, followed by shared data platforms and then shared physical workspaces.

Capacity building and leadership development initiatives of interest to respondents were in the areas of financial management, measuring and evaluating impact, leadership development and people management, the research showed.

Other resources Third Sector stakeholders thought would be useful included manpower surveys, fundraising training, training to understand government services and to better collaborate with government and advocacy to benefit the third sector.

The options in the report are designed to ‘strengthen’ Bermuda’s third sector, which will be achieved by taking into account the root causes behind the country’s social issues, said Mr Dholakia.

He said: “... there is also no perfect approach or model. It is necessary to look across (the models proposed) ... to define a combination that is driven by stakeholder needs and will best help the BDA Third Sector reimagine how it achieves its purpose.”

The models are –

* Network building groups, which encourage relationships between those with a shared interest, and also advocate on behalf of the group. Membership associations such as chambers of commerce are an example.

* Collaborative facilitation - another way to describe coalitions, alliances or campaigns; organisations that work together to get to mutual goals. It goes a step beyond the Network Building approach (described above) by coordinating groups of stakeholders to work toward the same goals.

“Coalitions, alliances, and campaigns often rely on the majority of work being led by a central intermediary entity and sometimes more local affiliates. Members are engaged via periodic convenings, online platforms, and online and offline advocacy efforts (for example, petitions and letter writing),” said Mr Dholakia.

This model needs stakeholders to shift from focusing on their own organisation with independent decision making and operations, to thinking in the context of the overall system and community, he said, calling this requisite “an overall challenge”.

Mr Dholakia pointed out: “A major strategic decision in this area for the BDA Third Sector Reimagining effort will be between housing leadership roles within a central intermediary (or) backbone organisation versus building a collective infrastructure with decentralized, distributed leadership, or possibly a combination.”

Capacity building and leadership development programmes would require training workshops, consultancy, tools, resources and programmes to improve organisation and leaders’ knowledge.

“Capacity-building and leadership development models should certainly be considered as a crucial component of a reimagined BDA Third Sector, only with careful consideration of what this area looks like in the context of the full picture,” said Mr Dholakia.

Shared data, infrastructure and services aim to increase efficiency, consistency, and economies of scale. Non-profit centers, shared data platforms and common grant platforms are examples of these.

But Mr Dholakia added these words of warning: “For all the excitement, effort and resources put into them, shared data systems are immensely challenging to pull off. Barriers include complex technology, users needing to input data into a shared system in addition to their own organisation’s, the required re-formatting of diverse data types to input into a shared system, the learning of a new process and tools, existing resource constraints limiting staff time around data work in general, and others.”

Equity, justice and systems lens focuses on improving third sector equity and justice practices and involves training workshops, self assessments and team assessments.

Mr Dholakia noted: “It is important to note that models to strengthen an equity, justice and systems lens can - and should - be integrated with other strengthening approaches, rather than being undertaken in isolation. For example, equity and justice models can be integrated into the Collaborative Facilitation approach.”

He also said: “Equity goes beyond achieving a set of outcomes; it requires intent, shifting power, and meaningful inclusion along with targeted problem definition and action.

“The study findings suggest that equity is broader than simply targeting actions toward a specific group. For collective impact to achieve its full and lasting potential, it is necessary to re-think the systems and structures that produce inequity to begin with.

“As such, equity in collective impact requires capacity to reflect on and drive an equity perspective, sharply target interventions that will address the greatest need, and shift power from system leaders to the communities who are direct beneficiaries of the work.”

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Published March 22, 2021 at 8:49 am (Updated March 29, 2021 at 10:47 am)

Beware of silver bullet solutions looking for problems to solve

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