Robin Katcher, MAG Senior Advisor, participated in an Innovation Challenge workshop this past Spring as a part of the Future Forward project. Future Forward is an innovation process exploring new, sustainable ways to resource Forward Together. It brings together an incredible group of Forward Together staff, funders, movement builders, strategists, and storytellers. It was also partly informed by Forward Together's participation in the Network Leadership Innovation Lab - and, in particular, their action learning project with Jobs With Justice and Chinese for Affirmative Action.
It is designed to seek answers to this question:
How can resources be generated differently to enable Forward Together and the social justice field at large to evolve sustainably, with agency and autonomy, toward a future in which all families can thrive?
There are three components to the project: 1) An Innovation Challenge, 2) Muscles & Mindsets, and 3) Storytelling. The workshop Robin participated in was the kick-off to the Innovation Challenge, where a number of ideas and experiments to find new ways of funding Forward Together's work were explored. Since then, the group has begun rapid experimentation action learning cycles to test out some of the ideas -- and they've learned a lot along the way.
AW: As you think back to May 18 and 19, what has stayed with you? How did the workshop live up to or fall short of your expectations? Who have you talked to about Future Forward? What have you shared?
RK: What sticks with me was the process we went through to develop innovative ideas, the exciting mix of thinkers in the room, and the real organizational challenges that arise as busy leaders try to carve out time and resources to experiment with innovative ideas.
It lived up to my expectations. I loved it! I think the struggle for me has been to stay engaged after the session and understand how the experiments are evolving. I would have loved to have a few more conference calls that provided a touch stone for how the current experiments evolved and what was learning. Failing to have a more concrete notion about how and when at the meeting made it harder for me to show up and figure out how to spend my limited time once I got back. A follow up call would have also accomplished that for me.
I already talk up Forward Together every chance I get. But it was nice to be able to do that with two friends and colleagues who are involved in running storytelling projects for entertainment. They both offered to be interviewed and thought the idea of using storytelling and the art of crafting stories as a tool for social justice was really interesting. How to make revenue over costs for such a project is less clear but there are some ideas.
AW: What advice or questions do you have for the experimenters? How would you challenge them? Why do you think experimentation is an important approach for this type of challenge?
RK: Experimentation is key! My biggest question is — how’s it been going? What has the experience been like for you? What have you learned so far from your experiments and from taking on being an experimenter? How might I support your efforts?
I would say don’t be afraid to try and fail. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. I would also encourage folks to reach out to potential for-profit partners to see what might be developed together and if that might reduce expenditures and still ensure revenues. I would also ask what learning is emerging around what it might take for nonprofits to experiment with revenue generating enterprises.
This is an exciting project, relevant to many of our clients, partners, and funders. We look forward to following it and continuing to learn from it!