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I hope the year has started off well, and I hope you have been able to take a break, not just from work, but from any weight of expectations. Speaking for myself, it’s been great to have a few days to wake up and simply be in a headspace where I expected nothing from myself (which included being in bed by 10 on NYE and having an almighty sleep-in to usher in 2022).

And with a fresh face, let’s get on with the Ko Lab!

Outcomes-driven grantmaking

I wanted to share this well-articulated and highly insightful article by Kathy Richardson, Executive Director at Our Community on the landscape of grant funding, in particular the challenges of measuring whether grant funding actually produces meaningful results.

She opens the article with this doozy of a gauntlet throwdown:

“Around $80 billion is given out in grants each year in Australia, according to our best calculations at SmartyGrants. Yet in many instances no-one is quite sure what is the purpose of that funding, and no one knows what the result of that funding has been.”

There’s several key problems that Kathy identifies:

Problem 1: Assessing impact is not just complicated, it’s complex. There can be multiple contributing reasons that contribute to impact, including but not limited to long term behavioural change, meaningful equity, and reasons for where programs failed. However, many of these measures take time and resources to achieve, thus it becomes easier to focus on outputs such as number of participants or funding provided.

Problems 2 and 3: There are no incentives for grantmakers or grant recipients to genuinely understand outcomes. Typically, grant outcomes are geared towards avoiding controversy or achieving a happy photo shoot, which can create an awkward dynamic on both parties and produce exaggerated results. Quote:

“Those happy pictures may apply to only 20% of the participants. We don’t hear about the 75% for whom the intervention did not work at all, and definitely not the 5% who actually experienced an adverse effect. Those things are completely hidden from view. Which means we can’t learn from them.”

My ‘yes, and’ to both these problems is that I think it also creates the adverse effect of lowering genuine innovation and risk-taking. Because the system is geared towards the ‘feels goods’ and avoiding controversy, the programs that get funded will by and large tread old ground.

Problem 4: The parties involved can sometimes ignore evidence and facts. This is because the overarching system is geared towards good results (Problems 2 and 3) and meaningfully measuring outcomes is complex (Problem 1). Kathy clarifies:

“…it’s not always about not wanting to know. Sometimes (actually, usually) it’s just hard to find the time and money, amidst doing the work, to find out what’s truly happening. Putting in place a sensible measurement and evaluation framework can be complex and expensive.”

So what is Our Community and the SmartyGrants platform doing? They’re focusing on shifting the mindset from an output-based focus to a circular structure learning mindset. They’re nudging grantmakers and recipients towards answering questions such as: “How will you know if it’s worked?” and “What did you learn as a result of undertaking this project?”

Kathy goes on to share several other models in the article so I do encourage you to check it out. What she talks about ticks so many boxes for me, not just in the grant funding world, but because I believe principles apply in so many other areas, from startups and businesses, from innovation and change.

Reframing rewards

If you’re still planning out goals, resolutions, or themes (which ever floats your boat) for the new year, I thought I’d share a small revelation I experienced in my own planning for the year.

The conventional wisdom as it pertains to goal setting and objectives is typically to identify some form of reward as an incentive for doing the work, whether that’s getting fit or working through a project. I don’t really know why, but this system has never really worked for me, irrespective of if the reward is material or experiential.

But then I realised that I was looking at ‘rewards’ wrong. I’ve been too focused on the idea that there has to be a ‘thing’ that incentivises me, whereas I think what might be better suited to me is thinking of a reward as an ’emotional state’. For example, the sensation of ‘progress’, of ‘fulfilment’, or even ‘pride’.

With this in mind, something I’m experimenting with this year is that across my 8 domains of focus, I want to try to establish an emotional state as a form of reward. For example: With Curiosity Journals, the reward I’m seeking is a sense of accomplishment in building a presence whereby complete strangers understand and resonate with the power of curiosity. From a health and fitness perspective, the emotional state I’m seeking is a sense of fulfilment that I’ve successfully improved my lifestyle habits.

If this experiment resonates with you, let me know! The question I asked myself was: “How do I want to feel once I’ve achieved these objectives?”

An invitation for discussion

I’ll end this Ko Lab on a new experiment to put the ‘collab’ into the Ko Lab: I’m keen for your opinions and discussion on an emerging bugbear, the summary of which I’ll then publish in a future Ko Lab.

Here goes: The other day on LinkedIn, I came across a post that said: “We need better, more empathetic leaders for the future.” This statement irked me more than it should have until I realised that my issue was with the use of ‘we’. Who’s ‘we’? And does using ‘we’ allow people to avoid individual responsibility?

Conventionally, the idea of ‘good leadership’ and ‘good teamwork’ is associated with the idea of ‘we’. We work as a team, we face challenges together, and good leaders use ‘we’, not ‘I’, etc. I understand that there’s a difference between working in a team and pure narcissistic qualities, but equally, I’ve been in enough meetings throughout my career where: “What are we doing to do about this?” actually means: “What is someone else going to do about this?”

My (admittedly cynical) interpretation of the above LinkedIn post was: “We need other people to be better leaders… but that person isn’t me.” I understand the colloquialism of the use of ‘we’ to represent a collective, but it’s such an easy throwaway sentence that I think can diminish the question: “What do I need to do?”

So: Do too many people use ‘we’ when they should be using ‘I’? I’d love to get your thoughts!

In closing

If you enjoyed this Ko Lab, I’d really appreciate it if you shared it with a friend or two you think would get a kick out of this. You can send them here to sign up. Time permitting, I’ll try and make it the most engaging and thought-provoking newsletter you get!

And if you come across anything you’d like to ‘Ko Lab’ on, send it my way! I’m equally keen to learn about and share new perspectives and thoughts.

Have a great week!

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