I’ve spent a good number of years thinking about what it would take to build a tool that people in international development, peacebuilding, and social impact more broadly could use to help them to anticipate whether projects, programs, or other things they’re planning to do are actually feasible. The “MAC” (managing absorptive capacity) research I did a few years ago was a proof-of-concept study that led to a prototype that gets pretty close to what I’m envisioning. But I’ve done more thinking since then and am starting to build it out (mostly in my mind so far) from a process to an actual software platform. The key features, I think, are:
- It needs to support dynamic theories of change (these are complex environments we’re trying to influence, after all), including explicitly modeling of assumptions (which in 2013 I called “prerequisites”).
- It needs to link the internal capabilities of the organization (or coalition) in question to the environment it’s trying to affect (in 2013, I called this “delivery capacity” and “absorptive capacity” — but I’m not super excited about that terminology).
- It needs to have database support so that quantitative and qualitative data can be used to flag missing prerequisites.
I have other thoughts that I’ll put down later. I think this is something that could be useful for helping planning, monitoring, and evaluation become more flexible and agile, something everyone has been saying is a high priority but not enough people are actually making happen.
But also, this is something the private sector could be very interested in — especially impact investors and social enterprises. There are established processes for due-diligencing companies investors might buy to see if their business model can make money and scale, but there’s a lot of magical thinking in the private sector as well as the development sector about impact — and there really aren’t many established ways to due-diligence a company’s impact or social-responsibility claims. So I’m calling this prototype I’m developing the Imp-Act™ system and targeting it for impact due-diligence, planning, and monitoring & evaluation. More to come!