Networks and Iteration

Andy Daly

As a new member of the team at Shaftesbury Partnership, one of the things you are invited to do is put your first impressions of the organisation into a blog post. A month after joining, I think mine is due.

I have come across the work of Shaftesbury Partnership many times before, having previously worked at other organisations within the social enterprise space such as HCT Group and School for Social Entrepreneurs. My first impressions of Shaftesbury Partnership from the inside are that while it is an agile organisation with flexibility built in to its operational model, it is also clear about its core values. Among those values are a passion for increasing social capital and tackling entrenched economic and social exclusion.

How does this this influence our approach? Well, there are two words that I have come across time and again – networks and iteration.

I noticed that first word, networks, mentioned frequently at the recent Shaftesbury Partnership annual event. At that event, Dan Lehner of UnLtd reminded us that horizontal networks are three times more innovative than vertical ones. I feel that the way Shaftesbury Partnership connects individuals and networks is an area where genuine value is added, and as a delivery partner for The Big Venture Challenge we will provide support to social entrepreneurs to help them develop effective and strategic networks.

Another of the strengths of Shaftesbury Partnership is that it thinks and acts at a systemic level. This makes it bold in terms of the issues it chooses to tackle and the solutions it develops. Our ventures are designed to address entrenched market failures in complex environments, which means a certain level of risk tolerance. I often remember something that was said at a DfID (Department for International Development) talk I attended a few years ago. DfID’s approach to supporting private sector anti-poverty initiatives was likened to sowing a thousand seeds. You expect some projects to fail, and if none do that in itself is a sign of failure, because it suggests that all of the projects that received funding would probably have gone on to succeed anyway.

That is not to say that Shaftesbury Partnership takes a scattergun approach. We choose our seeds carefully, but the model is to plan for success while also building in feedback loops, so that where innovation leads to failure the approach is to fail fast and to learn from that failure. In other words, in order to tackle complex issues, innovation and iteration must go hand in hand.

It is probably oversimplifying things a little to say that networks and iteration are the magic ingredients which drive innovation, but it seems a good place to start.

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