Strategic engagement – with snakes, elephants, baboons, mosquitos and meercats

smiling-baboonI am just back from work in Southern Africa. And while I was in a specific country with it’s specifically difficult political context, the question that keept us awake at night was rather universal: How can we influence without much formal authority? How can we achieve the greater good (as we define it, anyway), when doing so will cut off streams of illicit benefits for many people in high position?

Then I found a simple solution, fixed the situation and all is well, world saved.

No, not quite. Rather, I led my participants deeper into the complexity of their challenge (identifying who the actors are, how they are connected, what their influence and goals are, a.k.a. drawing a Net-Map stakeholder map). Then I provided them with guidance to prioritize and strategize for most effectively engaging with their stakeholders.

We divided the stakeholders in

  • Elephants: high influence, positive
  • Meercats: low influence, positive
  • Snakes: high influence, negative
  • Mosquitos: low influence, negative, and
  • Baboons on the fence: high influence, undecided

And for each, there are a number of strategies to explore:

Elephants: High influence, positive toward your goals

elephants

  • Give them credit, let them lead
  • Frame the issue for them, share information
  • Engage consistently, regularly
  • Manage possible power struggle between positive high influencers
  • Build diverse coalitions:
    • Diverse power sources,
    • diverse motivations,
    • shared goals.

Meercats: Low influence, positive toward your goals

meercats

  • Can you increase their influence?
  • They can be connectors and information gatherers
  • They might have helpful friends
  • Build coalitions – strength in numbers
  • Remember: “A leader without followers is just someone taking a walk”

And, don’t underestimate them: threat or belief can activate unexpected strength -see below, together they can kill a snake…

meercats-and-snake

Snakes: High influence, negative toward your goal

snake.png

  • Watch your back – protect yourself
  • Avoid – focus on other issues for now
  • Seek unexpected common ground
  • Explore their networks: Who do they listen to? Who commands them?
  • Explore win-win and trade-offs
  • Undermine their narratives
  • Weaken their coalitions

 

 

Mosquitos: Low influence, negative toward your goal

mosquito

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

Baboons on the fence: High influence, undecided about your goal

baboon-on-a-fence

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

By grouping our stakeholders according to their influence and their relationship to our goal, we became much more specific when developing engagement strategies. And calling our important stakeholders baboons or meercats also added a level of levity to the discussion that made us breathe more freely under the weight of our near impossible task. What are your strategies for engaging elephants, empowering meercats, swaying baboons, neutralizing snakes and protecting yourselves from mosquito bites? I am sure the above isn’t complete yet, so I am curious to hear from you.

The Power of Marrying Facilitation and Sector Expertise

Last week I talked with my colleagues from the IFCSumit Manchanda and Anja Robakowski-Van Stralen, and Amit Nag (Net-Map facilitator) who have used Net-Map to facilitate their political economy analysis in setting up Public Private Dialogues in developing countries. These are high level platforms, facilitating regular meetings and results oriented dialogues between public and private sectors actors. They help countries improve their business climate and government-private sector relations.

In our conversation we tried to distill the lessons learned from this experience and one thing really stood out: The power of bringing together technical expertise and good Net-Map facilitation skills. This doesn’t mean that a Net-Mapper has to be expert in each field they work in. Or that a technical expert is necessarily best placed to be the Net-Map facilitator. But if neither is the case, then bringing your technical colleague (ideally steeped in local knowledge too) into the room as co-facilitator or observer lifts your work to the next level. Because you, the Net-Mapper can bring out structural issues that have never been talked about before. You allow the group to look at complex pictures, seeing the trees and the forest at the same time.

The technical sector expert can then ask the questions they were never able to pinpoint, dig deeper, call out half-truths or omissions that the group might want to slip by you, remind the group of the history of the issue, nudge them to open up about conflicts and, most importantly, help you and the group figure out the meaning of what you see and what to do next.

Also, if the technical expert also happens to be your client, they will learn so much more and get so much more excited, when sitting at the table as the Net-Map is happening than by reading your report, which you had to condense, streamline and probably sanitize to fit public scrutiny and protect individuals. And they can take the insights from the mapping session right into the decisions they have to take about moving forward.

I am sure that even without ever being in a Net-Map session, you can share some experience about the tension or marriage (or marriage with tension?) between sector expertise and facilitation skills… What has been your experience with:

  • Facilitating processes without being a sector expert?
  • “Being facilitated” by a person who wasn’t an expert in your field?
  • Working in a Facilitator – Sector Expert team to facilitate difficult conversations?

 

(picture credit: migrationpolicy.org)

 

Public Policy and the Idea of the Vietnamese State: The Cultural Political Economy of Domestic Water Supply

A Net-Map study on formal and informal water governance in Vietnam, by Nadine Reis and Peter P. Molinga:

Abstract:
Using Rural Water Supply (RWS) policy practices as a case study,this article shows that the disjunction between implementation as formally conceived and informally practised is not a question of ineffective policy cycle dynamics, but rather an inherent feature of Vietnam’s Cultural Political Economy. Drawing on critical realist approaches to social and state theory, we argue that formal and informal RWS policy practices, as a set of two interconnected spheres, serve as key, separate but connected, mechanisms for reproducing the distribution of material resources (primarily through the informal sphere) and the hegemony of ideas (primarily through the formal sphere) in Vietnamese society. We conclude that the formal, administrative practices of RWS policy are primarily to be understood in their function of reproducing the idea of the state and state legitimacy. RWS administrative practices function to sustain the core social and political order in Vietnam as institutionalised in “the state”, rather than being primarily oriented to improving rural water supply. The findings raise questions for donor-supported programs that focus on formal administrative institutions and practices for improving the performance of the water sector.

Saving travel cost by Net-Mapping before you go

No-Fly-ZoneSaving cost and reducing travel are a big thing at the World Bank at the moment – as in many organizations. So while it was always requested to do your homework before going on a scoping mission, now this homework really has to be much more in-depth, everything you can squeeze out of your desk (research), do squeeze… It has to produce tangible outputs and prepare you as best you can to use your brief and costly time in the field wisely.

So we will pilot using Net-Map for this, sitting down with the project leader (based in DC) and maybe one or two colleagues who know the country and the sector well and to help them draw a map of the stakeholder situation as they see it. This will be a 3-4 hour meeting in our office – no plane ticket involved – a day or two of rough data analysis and visualization, then sharing the results (highlighting pain points and open questions) with colleagues on the ground in an online discussion.

It’s not a replacement for going to the field but it will help us get an in-depth first impression of the politics involved, help the project leader and experts structure their knowledge and share it and have something concrete to start the discussion with the people on the ground.

I will share how it goes and am curious if you have tried simmilar approaches. If you have, how have you dealt with the possible bias of the central perspective? How have you made the results easily approachable for the people on the ground and avoided that the first map was seen as the gospel? How have you dealt with open questions and guesswork?

The gift of doubt

https://i2.wp.com/www.ias.edu/files/images/Hirschman-byChristaLachenmaier-lg.png

Albert O. Hirschman

When reviewing my colleagues’ experience in improving the water and sewerage system in Baghdad, using the Outcome Mapping method, I realized one thing: The really big learnings, changes, breakthroughs happened when something went wrong, when people made mistakes, not when everyone was doing things perfectly. For example only the bad reactions of the public to initial newspaper articles made the team understand that they had to listen more than preach. If the initial communication had been o.k. – though not great – and no one would have even noticed or complained, there would have been little learning.

Today I read an inspiring article which shows me that aparently I am not the first to see this – the literary economist (who prefered to quote Kafka to doing math) Albert O. Hirschman made a science out of researching this. His biography is out, and this New Yorker article gives you a first flavor:

“Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.”

“Developing countries required more than capital. They needed practice in making difficult economic decisions. Economic progress was the product of successful habits—and there is no better teacher, Hirschman felt, than a little adversity. He would rather encourage settlers and entrepreneurs at the grass-roots level—and make them learn how to cope with those impediments themselves—than run the risk that aid might infantilize its recipient.”

From Net-Map to Action in less than a Minute

Picture by junussyndicate on deviantART

Today, at day one of our Net-Map training here in DC, participants spend the afternoon mapping out cases from their own experience. And I witnessed the fastest move from a Net-Map to action I have ever seen. One participant mapped out a question around economic development in his community. After the mapping was done, he excused himself, went next door and started making phone calls. He wanted to make sure to catch his colleagues before they closed shop for the weekend. The questions that other participants (who knew nothing about his case before) had asked him, opened a door in his mind and all of a sudden he realized how he could connect to the major influencer in his question. And so he did. And if his strategy works out, he will tell us.

The three biggest networking mistakes of advocacy groups

That’s one way of getting your message accross – just throw it at them… (picture copyright by Emily Layla)

A member of our new Net-Map LinkedIn Group asked about how Net-Map can be used to improve the effectiveness of advocacy groups. So here are three things that advocacy groups often do that hampers their success and where Net-Map can help them understand these limitation better:

1. Develop homogeneous networks: They just hang out with their own kind of people. Let’s say your a health advocacy group. You tend to network with other health groups, the ministry of health etc. But it might be that the Ministry of Education or Agriculture, or the farmers associations or a cell phone company can contribute things that you don’t have and make you much stronger. By putting up the influence towers in you Net-Map you might understand that there are other powerful actors that you want to relate to.

2. You focus on the “advocacy” link: Many advocacy groups see the world structured by the “advocacy” link and often overestimate the influence of advocacy as compared to other forces. By Net-Mapping and including links such as flows of funds, conflict, family relations, formal hierarchy, bribes etc. and then seeing these links in relation to the influence towers, they can see that advocacy is just one part of the puzzle. And there might be areas of the network where pure advocacy is a waste of time and resources, because the incentives are stacked so strongly against you that just repeating “But it would be better to did it differently” will get you nowhere. Mapping links that are very different from advocacy might also help the group to become more creative in what they can do to further their cause – or what their coalition partners can do to further their cause.

3. You focus on your own message only: The ultimate goal of advocacy is to change what people do. But often advocates also want to make others believers in their cause. This leaves them to talk about their own message all the time. Instead of thinking about what drives the other network members. One example how Net-Map helps break up that thinking pattern is the Nigeria Newborn Survival Case here. A colleague from Safe the Children told me a story about the power of framing the message for your audience instead of for your own ears that goes along the same lines: It’s about improving the healthiness of school feeding in the US: To convince conservative congressmen to do something about this, they went through senior army people, who turned it into a national security case – unfit young soldiers being unable to defend the country. I’d love to Net-Map that.