Giving Compass' Take:

• Organizations and NGOs need to learn how to communicate complex ideas about their work and impact with stakeholders and collaborators. 

• How does communication impact the success of organizations? 

• Learn about the roles of philanthropy in the humanitarian sector. 

Change is rarely straightforward. Those of us working in the social sector understand this, because we often work on complex and abstract issues like climate change, criminal justice, and migration.

The problem of effectively communicating in the face of abstraction is no stranger to people working on innovation, and it presents a huge barrier to getting buy-in and support for new ideas. Many people associate innovation with gadgets, data science, and famous inventors like Steve Jobs, rather than viewing it as a tool that can build new ways of thinking. Indeed, the term is overused and, in many cases, meaningless.

Meanwhile, nonprofits and NGOs tend to communicate their own organizations’ values, rather than connect to the values of the audiences they want to engage. This, paired with abstract language, leaves audiences to fill in the blanks with their own assumptions and biases about what innovation is.

Two years ago, our communications about innovation at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Innovation Service was packed with jargon, stereotypes, and meaningless statistics. We pushed out internal messages that everyone should innovate, confident that people could and would embrace humanitarian innovation as the next best thing. We told everyone why innovation is so important and so great.

Yet in our enthusiasm, we missed an opportunity to actually engage UNHCR staff in the work. The ultimate aim of the Innovation Service is to create an enabling environment for innovation to flourish within UNHCR—to equip staff with the knowledge, resources, and skills they need to use innovation as a tool to solve challenges. But while we may have been raising awareness about innovation, we weren’t helping our colleagues find new and better ways of working. We were working in abstraction when we should have been shaping intentional, deliberate, and meaningful communication.

Read the full article about communicating complexity by Lauren Parater, Ann Christiano, Annie Neimand and Hans Park at Stanford Social Innovation Review.