As civil society organisations around the world are exploring the practicalities of shifting power within the international development sector, INTRAC embarks on a journey to define our approach to impact and influence. In this series of blogs, Paul Knipe shares learning from the journey.
At INTRAC, along with many likeminded CSOs around the world, we are in transition. What does it mean to shift power intellectually and practically? Such a transition requires a lot of thought and action, relating to every aspect of an organisation’s mission and makeup.
This blog series is concerned with one line of enquiry: what should our approach to impact and influence be?
To help us we set up an external advisory group bringing together AGAR, CIVICUS, Southern Voice, Tearfund, and WACSI. The group advises, challenges and accompanies us, sharing ideas, perspectives and experiences. The aim is for a blog to follow each meeting, to share learning and encourage wider discussion.
We started broadly: What do we mean by impact and influence? What questions should we be asking the sector and ourselves?
Our discussion is summarised here under three interlinking areas:
1. Defining impact and influence
We need to be realistic about our ambition, reach and how we are positioned from the outset. Impact and influence parameters should be defined accordingly. A good starting point is to explore a couple of broad parameters:
- Impact for whom and by whom?
- Who are we influencing and how?
- How does our approach relate to practical challenges and opportunities associated with civil society resilience? Or of shifting narratives through core technical areas – monitoring evaluation and learning, organisational development, strategic partnerships, and network development?
- What is needed to shift from donor driven definitions of impact and influence to those that are inclusive, meaningful, and jointly owned by participants?
2. Impact and influence within systems
Looking at impact and influence through a systems thinking lens can help raise questions and frame approach. Impact and influence can be considered more holistically, beyond rigid boundaries of traditional linear approaches. It can lead to richer understanding of impact in the context of different elements and contribution to a broader system. This can help bring to light subtle, hidden aspects of impact, such as shifts in narrative, power, relationships, unintended outcomes:
- What are the direct and indirect elements of impact?
- What are the impacts of both process and outcome?
- What are the obvious or subtle unintended outcomes – both positive and negative?
- What does the impact tell us about the intervention and its relationship to the context and broader system?
Influence is dependent on relationships and requires cooperation. Systems thinking can help define influence approaches. The different, interlinked elements and relationships can shape influencing agendas:
- What are the power dynamics and knowledge asymmetries among audiences we’re engaging with?
- At what levels are we aiming to influence – local, regional, and global?
- How are audiences connected and in which spaces?
3. Collaboration, learning, accountability and adaptation
Central to our framing of impact and influence is collaboration. We want to ensure participation and joint ownership throughout. This requires appropriate and accessible learning and reflection systems and spaces for a range of audiences. If these systems are effective, there is space and opportunity to build iterative, adaptable processes that are a better fit for the dynamic contexts we work in. There are interesting links between impact, influence and joint accountability that should be explored. Learning questions could include:
- How can our approaches be shared, codesigned and owned, with partners and communities?
- What does it mean to share accountability for impact and influence?
- How can we ensure simple systems for collaboration, learning and monitoring that enable iterative and adaptable approaches?
Where do we go from here?
In the coming weeks and months we will explore, and try to answer, the questions raised above. We intend to illustrate these with examples from practice and literature and think further about the challenges and opportunities as we refine our approach. We welcome any suggestions or comments you may have.
At this stage, the outcomes are unclear – but the journey has begun.
If you have any comments or would like to be part of this discussion and journey, please contact pknipe [at] intrac.org.