Developing a strategy II - Tools

Applying key principles and using a combination of tools helps to build string strategies.
Applying key principles and using a combination of tools helps to build string strategies.

Getting the basics right

Last week‘s post was about de-mystifying strategy development processes. My argument was that you can keep the process simple if you stick to five key principles.


These principles are: 

  • Know the present situation and how you got there (i.e. the external situation and context)
  • Know where you want to be a few years down the line (i.e. what change do you want to secure in the world)
  • Know yourself/your organisation
  • Know what has worked in the past (that could be learning from outside or inside your organisation)
  • Make educated guesses about future developments


Building your strategy development process around these stepping stones will get you a long way. If you have missed last week‘s post - or want to read through the article again - you can find it here.


Three Simple Tools

Building on these general thoughts about strategy development, I will share some easy-to-use tools today - tools which over the years I have found helpful whenever I was involved in strategy development or strategy review processes. 


But before we get started, let me stress two points. 


First, as with conflict analysis processes, there is no one tool that will give you all the information you need. Instead it is essential to go through a series of exercises, using a variety of models and combining a number of different tools to bring all the necessary information out into the open. Once that is done you can start translating the new insights into a sound and promising strategy to guide your work.


Second, some of the tools I introduce further below are slightly adapted from the original concepts to better suit our field of work and the situations we are active in as peacebuilding practitioners.


SWOT Analysis

What is it and what is it good for?

A SWOT (the abbreviation standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis is a common tool helping you to better understand twos sets of factors that characterise your organisation and its work: First and foremost there are the internal factors called strengths and weaknesses. A great team, a high commitment to the work, an immense track record of being effective under difficult circumstances, poor safety procedures for your staff, a weak financial management system or the like are all examples of internal factors. In addition a SWOT Analysis identifies external factors - called opportunities and threats - that potentially affect your organisation and its operations. Bad relationships with the local administration, support by local media houses who cover your work, new laws that make it harder to attract funding, a trusted former colleague having been nominated as chairperson of the national human rights commission are examples of external factors.


The SWOT Analysis woks with the assumption that you need to have a comprehensive and realistic understanding of your organisation as well as of the environment in which it operates in order to deliver high quality services and products in an effective and efficient way. A SWOT Analysis is often used in the initial stages of a strategic planning/review process. 



How is it done?

A SWOT Analysis is often done in groups, representing a variety of actors involved with your organisation and its work. For example you might have one senior management group, one group of people from among project staff, one group with board members, one group representing the beneficiaries, one group of supporters and/or donors etc. 


As with many similar exercises it is essential that the general setting in which the SWOT Analysis takes place makes people feel at ease. It is also essential that the groups‘ composition enables people to talk freely, assessing the situation in an honest way.


Prepare a big poster with the SWOT matrix (see above). The SWOT matrix is a simple 2x2 matrix, each field covering the information on one of the main issues; i.e. strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.


Make sure that people understand that strengths and weaknesses relate to the organisation itself. They describe aspects from within the organisation and its direct sphere of influence. Opportunities and threats relate to the environment in which the organisation operates. They describe aspects that are located outside of the actual organisation and its direct sphere of influence.


Remind people that they are tasked to assess the current situation; the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the here and now. Do not include information from the past, if it has changed. Do not include wishful thinking and what people hope to see in the future. While this sounds obvious, it‘s actually quite a common mistake.


The groups then discuss these four aspects. When the individual working groups have concluded their discussions, people come back in the plenary. In a next step the groups check if they are in agreement about the individual points being reported back from the group. Once that is the case, the findings can be noted down on the big poster.


These findings will inform the development of any future strategy.



Where can I learn more about the SWOT Analysis?

More information about the SWOT Analysis can be found here. 


The Modified Hedgehog Concept

What is it and what is it good for?

The original Hedgehog Concept was developed by Jim Collins (and has been slightly adapted for our concept). It‘s a visual tool of three intersecting circles helping you to identify the one issue you should focus on. The underlying thinking is simple. It assumes that organisations are most likely to be successful if they stay focussed on one thing (and one thing only). In order to identify this one thing, organisations need to understand what they are deeply passionate about, what they are best at and where they can make the biggest/most significant difference (this last point is where I modified the concept). These insights can then help organisations to narrow down the options for their strategy and sharpen the focus of their future work.



How is it done?

The modified Hedgehog Concept is often used involving both staff as well as board members of an organisation.


Prepare a big poster with three intersecting circles (see above); for assessing what you are deeply passionate about; one for assessing what your organisation is best at; and one for assessing where you can make the biggest/most significant difference. The small area where all three circles intersect, that is the area you are interested in.


Stimulate the discussion with a set of guiding questions; one set for each of the three area. For example: Passion: What are you and your staff most passionate about? What is the vision of your organisation and why was it chosen? Which aspect of your organisation and its work are you most proud of and why? - Best at: What are the unique strengths of your organisation? What does it do best? What are you not good at at all? What is your organisation and/or its staff best known for? What do you do better than others in the field? - Biggest/most significant difference: In which area can you bring about the most significant chance for your beneficiaries? Where do you contribute the biggest added value? 


Discussing these three areas will quickly lead to the identification of points which show up in all three circles; i.e. where your organisation is passionate about, where you are especially good at and where you can make the biggest difference. 


Identifying these points will give you extremely valuable information for formulating your organisation‘ future strategy. It will tell you what to concentrate on, where to focus your resources and where to say ,No!‘. 



Where can I learn more about the Hedgehog Concept?

More information about the Hedgehog Concept can be found here.



The RPP-Matrix

What is it and what is it good for?

The PRR Matrix is one of the tools from the Reflecting on Peace Practice (RPP) program, developed by CDA. While the overall program aims at providing guidance on issues of effectiveness of peacebuilding interventions, the RPP Matrix is great to explore key elements of a strategy and the underlying assumptions about how social change takes place. It‘s worth familiarising yourself with the full RPP approach. But today I will only introduce the RPP Matrix.


The simple 2x2 matrix encourages organisations to explore two key questions.


Who needs to be engaged? The basic distinction here is between a ,more people‘ approach and a ,key people‘ approach. In order to see the social change your organisation is working for, does it need to engage as many people as possible to reach a critical mass (,more people‘ approach) or does it need to focus on a small number of people with the necessary power and influence to change the situation (,key people‘ approach)? Or does it need a combination of these two approaches?


Similarly the RPP Matrix encourages organisations to explore the kind of change that is needed for the project/program to be successful? The matrix distinguishes between changes within individuals on the one hand and changes within the wider society on the other hand. Does your program primarily depend on changes at the personal/individual level; i.e. individual people changing their attitude and behaviour? Or does it depend mainly on changes at the  wider socio-political level? For example on new or improved policies and laws and their application, on new or improved institutions, new and improved products and services? Or does it need a combination of both?


The RPP Matrix is often used at a later stage in any strategy development process. Once general program decisions have been taken, the RPP Matrix can help to make sure that a strategy is based on tested assumptions. It can further help to identify activities that are in line with the overall aims and objectives of an interventions. Last but not least the RPP matrix is of great benefit to spot gaps in a strategy.



How is it done?

Prepare a big poster with the RPP Matrix (see above). The RPP Matrix is a simple 2x2 matrix; the columns are for ,Who needs to be engaged?‘ and the rows are for ,What kind of change?‘. 


Write down the project objective/program goal on a piece of paper. Similarly write down the five to seven main activities you have planned to reach the objective/goal.


Take the objective/goal and discuss where in the matrix it is located.  Is it something that aims for change at the socio-political level? Or does it focus on change at the personal level? Who needs to be involved to make this happen? Here is an example: By the end of three years, 250 volunteers will be trained in alternative dispute resolution in region x, y, z. This project objective aims at a change on the individual level (a person gets new skills) and works with a more people approach. As compared to: By the end of five years, the ministry of justice will have established at least two legal advice services in districts x, y, z, trained and employed paralegal advisors and mediators and secured the necessary funds for their operation. This objective aims at socio-political change (establishing new infrastructure with new services) and is working partly with a key people approach (people from the ministry of justice), partly with a more people approach (more full-time paralegal personal and mediators).


Similarly take each of the main activities/set of activities to reach your objective/goal and discuss where in the matrix it is located. Do this for all the main activities/set of activities.


Once that is done, check if the sum of your activities have the potential to actually reach your objective/goal. Some points to look out for are the following: If your objective/goal is located purely on the personal level, it is unlikely to be sustainable. If your objective/goal is located on the socio-political level but the majority of your activities is located at the personal level, your intervention is unlikely to be successful. If your objective/goal needs to involvement of key people to be successful but most of your activities follow a more people approach, your strategy might have gaps and/or is based on untested assumptions.


If this discussion identifies weaknesses in your proposed strategy, examine your assumptions about how social change works, develop additional activities to close potential gaps and change activities to be in line with your objective/goal.



Where can I learn more about it?


More information about the RPP Program can be found here.


Post by Bjoern Eser from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.