Chapter 4

The Tech Strategy

Introduction

Organisations, people and groups working for social change often adopt
a reactionary mode almost without thinking, that is, they are constantly just responding to crises or to agendas that other people set. Often, organisations apply technology solutions in a similar way, trying out a new technology because they feel they have to, but with little thought given to whether it will work, or why. In a never-ending search for easy answers, technology solutions can seem like shortcuts to overcome hurdles and challenges, but after they’ve finished adopting a new technology many organisations find that they’ve expended precious resources and scarce time for very little gain. Often technology projects become a resource-intensive distraction.

At the Transparency and Accountability Initiative we’ve been concerned about this problem for the past three years. We see that technology has the potential to transform the field of transparency and accountability, but we also acknowledge that this potential remains largely untapped. Much project planning is driven by the technology and its possibilities, which can overshadow a more mission-driven and strategic use of the web or mobile tech. We’ve been investing in research and capacity building activities to support strategy-driven approaches to using technology by transparency and accountability organisations.

Here’s what we’ve learned: it’s very rare that transparency groups simply start using technology and quickly succeed in raising levels of accountability. Most organisations only succeed once they start using technology to support specific aims and tactics that are part of a larger strategic framework. In order to achieve this, you need to know where technology fits in, and understand the impact it will have on your organisation and its goals. To increase the likelihood of success, start with your strategy, develop your tactics, and then use technology as a tool to support those tactics.

An organisational strategy implies a long term vision, a theory of change about how to achieve that, choices about your priority goals and an overall roadmap to get there.

Once you’ve established that, you should think about developing a tech strategy that:

  • Articulates a vision for how tech can help you achieve your organisational strategy
  • Identifies appropriate technologies and the value that would be added to your work from their use.
  • Provides a framework for creating tech plans to support achieving specific short term goals, such as a particular campaign or service.
  • Guide you in the effective implementation of those tech projects.
  • Allows for evaluation of the effectiveness of your tech project, especially in relation to how it is helping you achieve your organisational goals.

Ideally you would work with a technology expert from inside or outside your organisation who can guide you through the process.

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1. Articulate your organisational strategy

It is important for any Transparency and Accountability organisation to have thought about the changes it’s aiming for and the impact it wants to make. For example, if your focus is increasing government accountability, say, how will you go about it?

Create your long-term vision and theory of change

A Theory of Change is a way to develop a vision for success. It is created by engaging both the staff and stakeholders who are directly involved and engaged by your work in order to ensure commitment and involvement in the future. The Theory of Change will help identify your priorities; it will inform strategic choices. It will clarify your direction and help you understand the tasks that will need to undertake.

An example of a vision of success statement for a transparency and accountability organisation:

“We have a society of engaged individuals who are not afraid or corrupt because we have strong institutions that are open and transparent.”

There are many ways of identifying long-term visions effectively, and you can learn from the non-profit, donor and for-profit sectors. At the Transparency and Accountability Initiative we have drawn on the work of our members Department for International Development (DfID) and International Budget Partnership for an understanding of the key components

Key elements for developing a Theory of Change:

  • Process mapping: map out the logical sequence of events that will lead you to your vision, starting from the actions you would undertake and following them through to the potential changes you expect them to bring about.
  • Reflection: you should be considering your own values, worldviews and philosophies, along with others and challenge existing assumptions about how and why change might result from your work.

For a diverse set of people to come up with a unified goal can be challenging. People working in the Transparency and Accountability sector tend to be unwavering and passionate about their visions for change. It can be difficult to be inclusive and ensure that all voices are heard. Consider where engaging your stakeholders in discussions will be the most valuable. Topics to explore:

  • Context: analyse the situation as things stand now, along with how the problem evolved, and the social, political and institutional landscape you are working in, with any opportunities for change they may offer. Think about whether there are any other actors who would have an influence in bringing about the changes you desire.
  • Beneficiaries: who benefits and how? Who are the specific beneficiaries of the technology programme or intervention that you want to undertake?
  • Desired long-term change: what is the ultimate aim that the tech initiative would support.
  • Process/sequence of change: what are the individual steps that will lead to the desired long-term outcome? Articulate the long-term change you aim for, supported by a sequence of intermediate changes.
  • Actors in the context: analyse the people, organisations and networks that influence change (both supporting and opposing it) in the setting of the problem you’re trying to tackle. Look at how much power they have and how they interact.
  • Analyse your assumptions: in order to work out whether the activities you intend to undertake will have the results that you foresee, try to be explicit about how the desired change would come about, making links between causes and their effects and analysing the worldviews, beliefs, rationales and analytical perspectives of your own group and the various players as well as the evidence that informs this assessment.
  • Sphere of influence: an analysis of your programme’s reach and ability to influence change, either directly through its interventions or indirectly through collaboration and interaction.
  • Strategic choices and intervention options: decide what you need to do to bring about the changes you seek.
  • Timeline: establish a realistic timeframe for change to unfold, including the expected trajectory of changes following your intervention/s.
  • Indicators: which areas will be the best indicators of how the project is succeeding? What should you monitor with evaluations and impact assessments?

You will want to create a narrative summary that captures the outcomes of the discussion and include any relevant diagrams.

Four basic, common questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • What does success look like for you and the actors? What will change?
  • What are the precursors to this success? What needs to exist in order for success to be achieved?
  • Whose behaviour needs to change to achieve success, and how? (Who needs to take what action? Let’s call them X.)
  • Which activity (planned or on-going) would you say is the most effective one for getting X to change their behaviour? (What is within your control, and what is beyond it?)
  • In order to achieve success, is there anything you could or should be doing differently?

Here are some key resources for creating a theory of change:

Choose your specific organisational goals and create an overall roadmap to get there

Although setting your vision with external stakeholders via a method such as the theory of change is invaluable, you must also focus on the specifics of how you will actually achieve change. This is where a strategic plan for your organisation comes in. The organisational strategy is an internal process that involves your staff and board of directors.

The organisational strategy should be seen as a roadmap, giving details of the steps necessary to reach your goals. It will provide more focus and will be set to a timeline – often three to five years. It will lay out a series of milestones within the timeline, and act as an organisational guide.

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Start by taking stock of the environment in which your organisation is currently operating. Conducting a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis) can be very helpful. Then decide on your objectives.

Generally, an organisational strategy will contain:

  • A Values Statement or guiding principles that guide the organisation’s operations
  • An assessment of the current situation
  • An articulation of strategic goals
  • A narrative plan for how each the strategic goals will be achieved
  • An articulation of the roles needed to implement the plan (both internal and external to the organisation)
  • A summary of the resources needed
  • A timeline

Resources

2. Identify your tech strategy

Create your tech vision

A tech vision is a written statement that summarises how technology will support the work of your organisation. You would arrive at a Tech Vision by looking at the role of technology in three crucial areas:

  • Your Theory of Change
  • Your organisational strategy
  • The value it brings to users

The people you are trying to reach or serve should be at the centre of your Tech Vision. How will technology provide value to your audiences?

An example of a Tech Vision statement from a library:

“The Library will be both a physical place and an information portal, which residents will be able to access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through its website and electronic resources. Library staff will be provided with continuous training and development opportunities so they may better serve the public.”

A transparency and accountability example:

“We take advantage of technologies to connect citizens to data and information that will allow them to hold their governments to account. The organisation seeks to engage and interact with citizens and with elected officials to promote transparency in government. Our website acts as a portal for the information that we gather and is a means to provide access to that information for the public.”

Choose your tech goals and create a roadmap to get there

A tech strategy will support your tech vision. Start by determining the key challenges you face in implementing your organisational strategies. Then identify the principal actions your organisation undertakes to fulfil its mission; for example, communications, stakeholder engagement and fundraising, planning and project management. Then, ask how well your existing technology supports your key tasks and functions. What works well? What should remain as it is? What should be changed? You should prioritise your tasks in relation to what’s most important to your organisational strategy.

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Now you’re ready to build the tech strategy. It should parallel your organisational strategy and contain:

  • A statement about how using technology relates and upholds the organisation’s values.
  • An assessment of your current use of technology (see the assessment section of the Tech Planning & Management Section).
  • An articulation of your technology goals.
  • The roles needed and whether they are to be filled internally or externally.
  • A timeline with milestones, and a budget.

The document should be free of technological jargon and acronyms, so it can be shared with non-technical audiences as well as internal staff.

Conclusion

Technology can be important for achieving transparency and accountability, especially in regard to interacting with public data. However, technology projects are fraught with pitfalls and unexpected problems. A tech strategy that is created from the foundations of a theory of change and an organisational strategy will ensure that your use of technology will meet your vision and needs. Having an adaptable and user-centred approach will help you avoid pitfalls.

The Tech Strategy should relate not only to the uses of technology, but to making connections between the goals of your organisation and its use of technology. An awareness of your long-term goals and strategic plan will be indispensable when you are evaluating the success of your tech projects. You should then be able accurately to answer the question: how is technology helping us to achieve our goals?

And now you are ready to undertake a technology project.