Giving Compass' Take:

• Social sector leaders need to pivot their questions to focus on creating a more equitable and healthy future through social innovation. 

• How can donors support this shift in thinking within the social sector? How are nonprofit silos hindering social innovation? 

• Philanthropists can also ask different questions to help build a better future. 

The world has changed, seemingly overnight. In the United States, against the backdrop of systemic racism, school boards and city councils are rethinking the role of police in their communities, confederate symbols are coming down, and businesses are using their marketing dollars to declare their support for Black Lives Matter. Around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing widespread suffering, and in many ways defining what humans and the planet are—and aren’t—capable of.

As people in the social change arena are feeling called to step into this moment, many are wondering: How do we move forward? How can we create a future significantly different from our past?

For the last decade, the network of people at Creating the Future has been developing and testing a framework for creating visionary social change. While most social innovations aim at innovative actions, the “catalytic thinking” framework aims at the thinking behind those actions— the beliefs and assumptions that invisibly inform every decision people make. In analyzing those assumptions and beliefs, we see that they are actually answers to questions we don’t realize we’re asking. For example, our assumptions about whether the world is round or flat answer the unspoken question: “What will happen if I head to the horizon?”

Unfortunately, social change work is commonly guided by questions rooted in reactivity, suspicion, and scarcity—a legacy from the business and military origins of social sector planning. These include:

  • What is the problem and how will we react to it?
  • Who is our competition?
  • Where will the money come from?

Like a horse wearing blinders, these questions reveal only a narrow slice of reality. Creating a healthy, equitable future requires just the opposite; it requires that we see the whole realm of our potential as achievable. The tools we use to do this must reflect the values we want to see in the world (such as compassion, openness, equity, and participation), and the interdependent relationship between our planet and each other.

What this means for creating a future different from our past is simple and profound: Because our thinking (and therefore our actions) are based on the questions we ask, changing those questions can dramatically change our results.

Read the full article about creating a better world through questions by Hildy Gottlieb at Stanford Social Innovation Review.