Tuesday, December 13, 2005

SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND - II: Their Operating Practices Are Clearly Set Out

After the email I received in response to my posting yesterday, I would like to say that I am not on Search For Common Ground's payroll. It's just that I am of the opinion that they have a First Class web presence and that their site can serve as a model for many organizations that are having trouble getting their message across in the best manner possible.

I am going to assume that you have read their Mission and Vision Statements, so I am not going to spend time going over those at this time. What I would like to do, however, it to talk about how they have set out their "Operating Practices"

This simple recitation of six aspects of SFCG's operations gives a lot of important information to a potential donor, volunteer, intern or applicant for employment.

The statement is as follows:

"Make long-term commitments
Avoid parachuting - dropping into a conflict for a short visit. Use a continuing presence to develop a knowledge base and to build networks of relationships on all sides of the conflict.

"Use an integrated approach
Work simultaneously on multiple levels and on multiple fronts, while striving for societal conflict transformation.

"Become engaged in order to see the possibilities
Conflicts are extraordinarily complex, and it takes profound engagement in order to start to understand them. Although we conduct assessment missions before undertaking any new programme, we strive to remain flexible to adapt to the changing environments in which we operate.

"Be social entrepreneurs
Look for problem solvers and creative thinkers who, from a shared vision, can develop finite and achievable projects. Continuously develop new tools and approaches.

"Become immersed in local cultures
Work with and build on individuals' and communities' knowledge, wisdom and creativity. Partner with local peace builders to strengthen their ability to transform their own conflicts.

"Practise cooperative action
Dialogue is a necessary but insufficient means to change attitudes and behaviours. Wherever possible, work with parties in conflict to help them not only understand their differences but also to act on their commonalities."

SFCG's informing the reader that it seeks to Make long-term commitments speaks to the probable stability of its various projects. A lot of non-profits stumble on this one. They see a need and prepare to go in and help without thinking about whether this will be a long-term commitment or just immediate short-term relief. I have been informed that this lack of prior planning caused a number of non-profit organizations some embarrassment when they wanted to go into Niger with famine relief but had not engaged in adequate planning to be able to answer the question of whether they would be prepared to make a long term commitment. It would seem that in many other areas, as well as in conflict resolution, meaningful assistance without long-term commitments would be impossible.

The organization's use of an integrated approach gives a hint of its strong footing as well. Conflicts, like most other crises have more than one dimension, and it is rare that a single-issue approach can solve problems.

Its commitment to Become engaged in order to see the possibilities gives one the sense that they will be in the midst of things in order to adequate observe, assess and respond. "Long Distance Assistance" has been proven to be very ineffective.

By endeavoring to Be social entrepreneurs SFCG says that it will take those steps to be creative and work with those participants who can bring their creativity to the table. In most cases, the solutions have not yet been found during the crisis of conflict. If it had been found, there probably would not still be a conflict. Because of this, creativity is a must. Very few people are interested in lending their efforts to trying the same old unsuccessful strategies yet again.

When they Become immersed in local cultures SFCG is better able to utilize the local community's resources to address the existing conflict. More often than not, the conflict arose within the local community, so it may very well be that the best solution will be found within the local community. No matter how much of an expert you are, no one is going to believe that you can accomplish very much without engaging the local community.

Whey they say that they Practice cooperative action this organization is focusing in on the most key ingredient to any socially responsible response: ACTION. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at proposals where organizations are seeking funding to examine or discuss problems that can only be solved by action. I am not saying that problems do not have to be examined or discussed, it is just that if your organization holds itself out as being interested in solving a problem; at some point your organization will have to say what action it plans to take to do so. And one of the worse things that an organization can do is to set out its agenda as if it is an action agenda, when what is contemplated is nothing more than examination and analysis. Organizations have done this before - I have seen it.

Now, while SFCG is primarily concerned with conflict resolution, this statement of Operating Practices can be a good guide for anyone who is serious about clearly articulating how your organization intends to conduct its business. I love all of my friends in the non-profit world, but it is so disappointing to hear CEOs say to me: "Just get me the money and I will figure it out." The "It" being the manner in which they will conduct their business in order to achieve their mission. If other organizations were to use the SFCG statement of Operating Practices as a template to overlay their own situation, questions will arise - which, if answered - will help to build a stronger foundation for their efforts and create a more reasonable chance of successfully achieving their goals. If you don't believe me, just try it. Ask yourself these questions:

Is my organization entering into this particular project for the long term, or only for the short term; and what is the significance of that?

Are we approaching the problem on all the levels and fronts necessary to reasonably expect to achieve success?

Are we engaged enough in the target community so as to have made proper assessments of the situation, and to be able to properly manage the project, and to be able to adapt as conditions dictate?

Are we being creative enough, so that our goals are achievable within the finite boundaries of the project?

Are we as an organization, and is our project, immersed deeply enough into the local community and culture so as to meaningfully contribute to our partners and the recipient community members?

Are our efforts bringing about action that will achieve the goals of the project and accomplish the mission of the organization; and are we utilizing our partners and other invested persons and entities so as to maximize that action?

Well, I hope that SFCG does not mind my holding it up for a "Case Study" in the manner in which I am doing. And I am not saying that every non-profit should try to mimic them. But what I am trying to point out is that the Internet is a great tool by which to present yourself as a non-profit organization to the world. And if you are going to do that, it only make sense to present yourself in the best light possible. Now, some non-profits have problems that are more serious than presenting a good image and clearly getting their messages across to the public. But if your operation is in good shape you should present yourself properly; and if you are not in good shape, perhaps looking at the web site of an organization that is, will give you some ideas about how to fix your problems.

You can find Search For Common Ground at the end of this link.

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