Making sense of our work to be more efficient and to have more impact

Launching our new Sensemaking toolkit, templates and DIY training

It’s not uncommon when working in an organization to be very busy, to have a lot of different streams of work happening and to be very output focused with most time being spent on managing and organizing streams of work and celebrating the outputs.

It’s also not uncommon for leaders in these organizations to get frustrated by this, to ask questions about impact, and challenge teams on how to become “more than the sum of our parts”.

Sound familiar?

At the UNDP we experience this as much as any other complex organization and the innovation teams across the UNDP have spent a lot of time trying to work out how to change this cycle.

The Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) at the UNDP Asia and the Pacific, with partners, have developed a Sensemaking process as part of a broader effort to accelerate UNDP’s impact. At its heart, Sensemaking is a strategic process and practice designed to extract insights from current projects and to generate actionable information for UNDP Country Offices to use in strategy.

Through this practice we try to answer the questions:

· What do we have that is good, that works and how do these activities connect to each other?

· Are these projects relevant and coherent to the current and emergent needs of the country or government(s) we serve?

· What is missing from our portfolio?

· How can we do more of with our limited resources on the ground (e.g., funding, human resources, projects, relationships)?

· And the hard one, what might we stop doing in a deliberate way (not just because funding ran out)?

Moving on and alleviating a bottle neck

To move Sensemaking more into the mainstream we are delighted to launch today a DIY version on the Sensemaking process. This includes a workshop preparation guide and step by step facilitation guide and includes new training videos and Miro board templates.

The reason why we have launched the training and the Miro templates, and the guidebooks is to take a step towards demystifying Sensemaking and moving it outside the realm of something that mainly innovation people do and into a practice at Country Office level.

We understand training materials, guidebooks and templates alone will not change the culture and the practice of an organization, but we do hope it goes some way to mainstream the thinking and process within the UNDP and help alleviate a bottle neck created by needing globally or regionally based expert teams (although there is a great network of consultants available to support this process).

We also wanted to share our practice with people outside the UNDP. We are aware of many NGOs, INGOs and other UN agencies, as well as, government ministries, are embarking on the journey of Sensemaking to encourage listening, discussion and collaboration beyond usual boundaries, allowing concentrated efforts to be focused on today`s complex challenges and we wanted to make these resources available to those people too.

More than a process: Impact of Sensemaking

The UNDP has been championing the innovative practice of Sensemaking for the last few years to help global Country Offices to be even more efficient and effective in their work and as a crucial first step in our system change methodology.

System Change Methodology Overview from System Change: A Guidebook for Adopting Portfolio Approaches

Over the last three years the team at the Regional Innovation Centre have been running Sensemaking sessions in partnership with Country Offices and have worked with 20 offices in the region. The practice is now common in many country offices who run this process more than annually to prepare their Country Program Document (which is the structured demonstration of UNDP`s commitment to support each country in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals) or its mid-term evaluation, see UNDP Philippines, by UNDP Lao or by UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji with very practical examples, or just to support strategy and coherence in their work.

Over the past few years Country Office managers have reported the following benefits of Sensemaking in their office:

· Identifying (technically, operationally, interpersonally) what the team is doing well, where the organization holds comparative advantage, where they need to improve, new capabilities they might need to invest in, and potential future opportunities,

· Shifting from a compliance and reporting-heavy organization to a user-centric, learning organization,

· Increasing impact of current work programme,

· Transitioning to working using portfolio approaches by identifying ways to design projects to be more cross-cutting and intersectional,

· Reflecting on (and acting on) how the team’s portfolio fits with the organization’s broader strategy,

· Hosting a collective strategic conversation in the team that goes beyond senior management and team leaders, by bringing a broader group of colleagues together. This also encourages collective ownership of work,

· Investing in the capability development of staff specifically in the areas of facilitation, active listening, abstraction, identifying patterns, articulating and presenting strategic arguments.

Next generation Sensemaking

The Innovation Centre team are always looking to adapt our approaches so that they are relevant for the needs of our Country Offices. Since the initial introduction of Sensemaking methodology (that you can read about here and here) we have made changes and updated the process and product including:

- Using the process in different ways such as implementing it during highly volatile times, or leveraging Sensemaking to calibrate our Covid-19 responses,

- We have also developed the process to use between the UNDP and our funders to support better alignment in current programming and to shape new programming,

- We have simplified the language and process to make it less academic and more practical and useable for our teams.

- We have more deliberately connected it with UNDP foresight work (which you can read about here including a great playbook) and

- We have explored what Sensemaking 3.0 might look like, adding a digital and data element, bringing collective intelligence to life (you can read more about here and soon we will launch more of this work).

We hope these resources are useful for you and appreciate any feedback you might have.

Kate Sutton wrote this blog with help from Agnes Huller. Thank you to the many people involved in helping get this work to you especially Thiara Cavadas, Prateeksha Singh and the many others that have developed this work. We will keep you posted on our findings and in the meantime, should you be interested you can share your thoughts with us on Twitter @ricap_undp



Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Doing development differently through designing, developing, curating, collating and championing innovation and digital across the Asia Pacific Region.