[caption id="attachment_16910" align="alignnone" width="300"]innovative strategy New to a space? Just listen.[/caption] Working on a global project like Making All Voices Count is an eye-opening task that can also be daunting for the lone programme officer venturing out to find innovative ideas to support. There are so many different contexts to discover, so many ideas to sift through and so many people with different perspectives to process. While I am working in at most four countries in Africa (we work in a total of 12 countries globally), it is still a challenging task to discover, process and understand the context of each country's innovation and governance space, and to make connections that work to support the ecosystem. To find the most innovative ideas, an innovative strategy is needed. Formulaic approaches and tried-and-tested methods might not work all the time. I'm therefore taking a listening approach, as this allows me (as an individual and agent of MAVC) to understand the nuances of each country's context and appropriately structure partnerships and activities that have the best chance of meeting our programme objective of catalysing innovation. So how does the listening approach work? In the first place, it takes an open mind, conscious knowledge of one's notions or pre-conceptions of the specific space and good old curiosity. These are my 'tenets' of listening:
  1. Read about the place, people and issues you are interested in. For me this involves reading up on general history, political, economic and social structure, exploring cultural content (e.g. art, social media conversations), seeing what the innovation and governance situation is like and getting an overview of the space. The benefit of reading up for background is that it gives me a foundation on which to build the rest of my learning. It also helps me identify what the 'big issues' are and to know what to zoom in on when asking more detailed questions.
  2. Ask questions to locals. This is so important! Locals in this case means people who live there and understand some aspect of the context. Connect with people who you think are interesting and would be happy to share their perspective and experience about the space you are looking into. You would need to visit the place of interest because there is no substitute to actually experiencing it for yourself! While there, also go to events and activities that expose you to the local culture and people as much as possible.
  3. Connect dots. As you do your reading and have conversations with relevant people, analyze what you are hearing and reading. Make conclusions, deductions and ask further questions based on your analysis. This is the part where you form your own perspectives that relate to the objectives you are trying to achieve.
  4. Challenge your assumptions. Don’t believe everything you think you know! Seek alternative views to the ones you hold and test your hypotheses. Always be ready to learn something new that surprises you. Rinse and repeat the listening process. Learning never ends and the context is dynamic. The longer you are active in the space, the deeper your understanding will become (as long as you are always listening).