“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." – Buckminster Fuller
Today’s social and environmental challenges seem to be more complex and intractable than ever before. Will we be able to resolve critical global issues such as climate change, human rights abuses, corruption, economic inequality and a multitude of other issues using the same structures, processes and tools that have served us in the past?
In the past, each sector of our society had a clear role. Businesses were meant to be the engine for our economic livelihood and to earn a profit to survive and grow. Government, in its democratic form, established and enforced the laws of our society as determined by a majority of the population. Lastly, the social sector (Non-Profit / Non-Governmental Organizations) provided the social services not provided by the government and sometimes acted as a watchdog over the actions of Business and Government.
Of course, this is a great simplification, but essentially the dividing line between each sector was clear. This is less the case today. Today, businesses are becoming social enterprises. Non-profits are acting more like businesses to survive. Governments are outsourcing services to businesses and non-profits more than ever before. Resilience and adaptability are becoming more important than rigid structures with clearly defined roles.
As information and communication technologies continue to improve, more organizations are realizing significant benefits from networking with other organizations across sectors and beyond organizational boundaries. The benefits of this collaboration have included:
Better understanding of complex issues by tapping into the collective intelligence of more people
Cost savings by sharing of knowledge and resources
Better buy-in and more effective outcomes by engaging diverse stakeholders at an early stage
However, along with the benefits, there have also been significant challenges to working within a networked environment as opposed to more traditional hierarchical organizational structures.
Organizations are not usually structured in a way to accommodate working within a network
Building trust across organizational boundaries can be a challenge (it’s challenging enough within organizational boundaries!)
Technology firewalls often prohibit or limit collaboration outside the organization
Tools for effective collaboration can be prohibitively expensive and so-called ‘freemium’ tools can compromise organizational privacy & security
The Monitor Institute and the Foundation Center teamed up to do an extensive research project looking at the tools and processes for effective collaboration that are used by grantmakers. The full report and executive summary can be found here: : Harnessing Collaborative Technologies – Helping Funders Work Together Better.
Lisa Philp, Vice President for Strategic Philanthropy at the Foundation Center also wrote an excellent blog post for Markets for Good summarizing the findings of their research. The blog post can be found here: Technology & Tools for Funder Collaboration.
It is my opinion that many of the findings in this research for the philanthropic sector are also relevant for the social sector in general. Techné Verde (a fiscal project of the Buckminster Fuller Institute) tracks technology solutions for better communication and more effective cross-sector collaboration for networks looking to work together to solve complex issues both on a local and global level.
The project is well aligned with the mission of the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI), which is to “accelerate the development and deployment of solutions which radically advance human well-being and the health of our planet’s ecosystems. BFI programs combine unique insight into global trends and local needs with a comprehensive approach to design. They encourage participants in their programs to conceive and apply transformative strategies based on a crucial synthesis of whole systems thinking, Nature’s fundamental principles, and an ethically driven worldview.”
I opened this blog post with a quote from Buckminster Fuller and feel it is appropriate to close with another inspirational quote:
“[My vision is] To make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
― Buckminster Fuller
Tom Moroz is a co-founder of Techné Verde, a project of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. He is currently working on projects with various local & global networks to improve the infrastructure for better collaboration and knowledge sharing across organizations and sectors. Previously, he was Global Head of Knowledge Management for the Open Society Foundations where he developed and implemented the knowledge management vision and strategy for their global network of nearly 40 organizations.