Exploring radically better organisational development
A new project to inspire and support radically better organisational development in the UK nonprofit sector
This post was originally published by the Open OD project on Medium
In the last six months, the UK nonprofit sector has rapidly adapted to the disruptions of Covid-19. Within weeks, charities, voluntary and social enterprise organisations have created new services, secured emergency funding and increased partnership working. What if this rapid adaptation contains the seeds of radically better organisational development?
Open OD is a project to explore how we might inspire and support radically better organisational development in the nonprofit sector. Our hunch, based on previous discovery research, is that collectively designed principles and standards for organisational development is a good place to start.
Open OD is delivered by a partnership of charities: SHIFT, NPC, IVAR and NCVO, and funded in partnership by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales and The National Lottery Community Fund. Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales partners with small and local charities who help people overcome complex social issues. The National Lottery Community Fund is the largest funder of community activity in the UK.
Charities deserve better
Strong, vibrant communities are supported by resilient, confident organisations, able to develop and adapt. The current experience of organisational development for charities, voluntary and social enterprise organisations (charities) does not effectively support these shifts. A previous discovery research project in 2018-2019 revealed that the nonprofit sector’s approach to organisational development tends to be inconsistent, intermittent, fragmented and under-resourced. For small and medium-sized charities, personalised support is dependent on the nature of funder grants, and often the approaches of individual grantmakers and organisational development practitioners. It’s difficult for charities of all sizes to find good quality, relevant information.
I was tasked with dealing with some governance issues within the organisation - something that I didn’t know very much about - but after spending a while on Google, a lot of the things I found were out of date and I didn’t find anything that felt right for us.Charity
Providing clarity and raising aspirations
We’re hearing that the term “organisational development” doesn’t resonate with everyone, and that there are issues with related terms like capacity building, capability building or developing resilience.
... are capabilities the same as capacity and strengths? We get lost in all the different types of language.Charity
For now, when we talk about organisational development in the nonprofit sector, we mean the approaches that charities (and those supporting charities) use to adapt and improve, so that they are resilient and able to achieve their mission. Approaches include
- Mindsets, like being open and generous
- Practices, like building digital capability, leadership development or continuous learning
- Processes, like creating a business plan.
While we do want to provide more clarity, trying to craft a single definition of organisational development that everyone agrees on may be impossible. For example, there is no agreed, one-sentence definition of digital. However, we do know “what good looks like” for digital. See CAST’s Digital Design Principles for charities and funders, Janet Hughes’ What a digital organisation looks like blog post and Cassie Robinson’s “what we mean by digital” blog post. All are useful, plain English products or content that are rooted in practice, have a point of view and raise our collective aspirations for digital.
With your help, we hope to do the same for organisational development, by collectively creating principles and standards for “what good looks like”.
- Work in the open, sharing what we’re learning on this blog
- Collaboratively design and test principles and standards with charities, funders and organisational development practitioners. We believe “radically better” organisational development includes diverse lived experiences and perspectives, and that historically, the field has not been inclusive enough
- Build on what already exists and share examples of inspiring practice
- Look beyond current organisational development practice to borrow from other disciplines (see this Twitter thread).
Join the conversation
Through October - December 2020, we will hold discussions about what radically better organisational development could look like in the nonprofit sector, and test principles and standards. Some questions currently on our minds:
- What can we learn from how organisations have responded to Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter?
- What could collective organisational development look like? What if we build capability collectively, through communities and sectors, rather than organisation by organisation?
- Should organisational development be so focused on growth? Should it even be as focused on sustainability, and could there be more support for organisations to end or pass on their work?
- To radically improve organisational development, what roles could charities, networks, organisational development practitioners and funders play, and what are their needs? Who gets to decide “what good looks like”?
What questions would you like to explore? If you’d like to be involved in this project, please register through this short form. We’d also be very grateful if you could share this blog post with anyone who might like to be part of this project.