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Social change. Strategist, facilitator, researcher, writer. https://open-colab.org

A lot of organizations made it through the “fog of 2020” by the skin of their teeth, first scrambling to adjust to Covid and then trying to keep their work going in one way or another. The pandemic still rages in most of the world, even as privileged pockets with high vaccine access and uptake roll back restrictions. But increasingly, we’re lengthening our planning horizons as we emerge from peak uncertainty into something like moderate uncertainty.

I’ve spent the last few months working with several teams on strategy refreshes. In addition to the external moment, each had internal reasons—ranging from…


Geometrical pattern on ceiling of Fulton Street station
Geometrical pattern on ceiling of Fulton Street station
Ceiling of Fulton Street station. (Photo: Dave Algoso — CC BY 4.0)

Hey, it’s strategy refresh season! Some organizations started 2021 by pausing to reflect on their strategy, but maybe you’ve gotten halfway through the year without making that space.

What’s holding you back? Oh—is it the challenges of balancing remote work, budget crunches, childcare demands, living through a global pandemic, and the crushing mental and physical health effects of the above? Right.

There’s little my humble post here can do about those, unless a bit of encouragement can make you feel a less alone in facing those challenges.

But if you’re thinking it’s now time to step back and review what…


Think back to the first few weeks of the COVID pandemic and the way it turned the world upside down. That was probably sometime in March, depending on where you are in the world. Most organizations spent those first few weeks scrambling as they adjusted to Peak Uncertainty.

By late April or early May, we were still in a scramble but we started to get a bit of clarity on what some possible futures would look like. Around that time, I started to hear from teams trying to do scenario planning to deal with the upcoming periods of slightly less…


JHU CSSE’s COVID-19 tracker, as of March 28 at 11:30am ET

I have a dozen things I need to do and a half-dozen more ideas for what I could do differently, alongside a crushing sense that three-quarters of it doesn’t matter in the face of a global pandemic—but I don’t know which three-quarters.

Then there’s the siren call of twitter and the news singing false promises: read a bit more, scroll a bit further, to find the fresh take that will give me greater clarity.

We have to acknowledge the psychic toll this moment is taking on each of us. At the first level, even if my daily life somehow continued…


Diagram of flattening the curve
Diagram of flattening the curve
Source: CDC, Drew Harris, via NPR

There’s an important idea from the humanitarian sector that famines are not natural disasters. They’re not caused by crop loss or droughts or even a lack of food. There’s always enough food in this world: it’s just not reaching the people who need it.

Famines are caused by market failures, and government inability or unwillingness to respond. A drought may be natural, but a famine is man-made.

It’s slowly dawning on folks that the same is true of pandemics. There are lots of nasty bugs in the world. …


Ask anyone if they have a strategy, and the answer is usually “yes”. But ask them to show it to you, and they might sheepishly admit it’s not written down. That doesn’t mean they were lying: whether unstated or unexamined, or even confused or illogical, there’s always some chain of reasoning connecting your actions to your goals — that’s the essence of strategy.

Whether you have it in a document, or whether the strategy-as-written matches the reality, are different questions.

We have a norm against unstated or unwritten strategies, but what’s the real value of documenting our strategy? On the…


The social change sector circles the wagons when criticized by outsiders, but among ourselves, we cringe thinking of the ways we could do our work better. Often we’re constrained by legacy systems or too focused on delivering the work to make structural improvements. Fortunately, outside the public eye, countless organizations are working to change the way social change happens.

A few years ago, Feedback Labs asked me to look at the segment of this change infrastructure that was using network approaches to support social sector organizations. We identified about 20 organizations with relevant missions and models similar, ranging from the…


Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

The social change sectors love learning. Being a learning organization, fostering learning, learning and adaptation, adaptive learning. It has many names, but comes back to a perennial thorny problem: how to improve our work.

The prickliest briar in the bunch is the question of learning culture. Whether at a venerable institution or a flashy startup, culture is everyone’s favorite intangible enabler of learning.

Unfortunately, there’s no obvious way to create a learning culture. You often have to approach the issue sideways: if you want your culture to value learning, you can do more by focusing on a culture of adaptation…


Toxic.

There’s this weird assertion I’ve seen floated in discussions of the #MeToo movement and feminism. It takes a few different forms, but the basic gist is that some people take umbrage at the term “toxic masculinity” as if it implies that all masculinity is toxic.

Here’s why that’s so wrong-headed: because adjectives. If all masculinity were toxic, you wouldn’t need to specify. Just like when my friend says he bought running shoes. He’s not saying all shoes are running shoes. He’s distinguishing them.

Toxic masculinity is a particular conception of manliness that tells a man he needs to dominate those…


Teens For Gun Reform. (Photo: Lorie Shaull.)

We didn’t find out about it on twitter. The victims weren’t broadcasting as it happened. I remember reading the newspaper in my parents’ kitchen the next day. Standing, pacing, in disbelief and disgust. I remember being dumbfounded.

Back then, people still referred to mass shootings as “going postal”—after a handful of high-profile workplace shootings by post office workers in the 80s and 90s.

After Columbine, nothing changed at my school across the country in Virginia. I don’t remember any discussions about violence prevention or new security policies. The most I remember was that a few school districts banned trench coats

Dave Algoso

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