Change Incubator — What are we learning so far?

  • By Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, December 16, 2015

By Lori Bartczak

I wanted to share a brief update about GEO’s Change Incubator. As you may know, this program is designed to help grantmakers strengthen relationships with their grantees in a way that leads to better impact. Teams from four pioneering GEO member organizations joined us in the first cohort of an intensive 18-month program designed to accelerate the pace of change within their organizations. While our participating teams are still in the early stages of this work, we want to start sharing some of what we’re learning and how you can apply these lessons.

While technical work happens in the head, adaptive work takes place in the heart and in the gut.

A critical first insight that has come out of this work so far is the importance of understanding the difference between adaptive and technical challenges. Technical challenges are those for which there are known solutions. Technical challenges can be complex – such as developing a grants management system – but the knowledge and skills exist to reach the solution. Adaptive challenges are those that cannot be solved with existing knowledge and skills. Adaptive challenges are relational; they require changing behavior, practices and ways of working. While technical work happens in the head, adaptive work takes place in the heart and in the gut.

Understanding this difference is especially important in the context of strengthening relationships with grantees, because the work of improving relationships is an adaptive challenge. While technical steps may be part of the solution, achieving meaningful change will require taking stock of the risks, competing commitments and potential loss that may surface through changing the nature of the way grantmakers work with their grantees. Sean Thomas-Breitfeld of Building Movement Project provides an example of an adaptive challenge related to strengthening relationships in a recent blog post.

As Change Incubator participants begin to apply some of their insights and learning from the program into the day-to-day work at their foundations, they will be sharing their experiences with the GEO community.