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October 22, 2013 | Cynthia Gibson, Katya Smyth '95, Gail Nayowith, and Jonathan Zaff

To Get to the Good, You Gotta Dance With the Wicked

Photo: Echoing Green's 2013 Going to Scale Cohort

There may not be one resolution to wicked problems and nonprofits can’t—and shouldn’t—do it all.

Re-posted with permission from Stanford Social Innovation Review

In their recent article, “When Good Is Not Good Enough” (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2013), [1991 Echoing Green Fellow] Bill Shore, Darell Hammond, and Amy Celep conclude that the social sector needs to “shift its attention from modest goals that provide short-term relief to bold goals that, while harder to achieve, provide long-term solutions by tackling the root of social problems.” The authors base their conclusion on hard questions about whether what they, as leading social entrepreneurs, initially saw as solutions to difficult social problems were even making a dent.

It’s rare that successful people talk publicly about their failures, and when they do, it’s usually little more than a brief aside, so it was a nice surprise to see this honest article. As people who have served as community workers, advocates, nonprofit executives, researchers, philanthropic advisors, and government employees to address an array of social problems inextricably linked to poverty, we agree with the authors’ conclusion. Like many of our colleagues, we’ve employed the tactics that Shore, Hammond, and Celep identify as essential: policy advocacy, cross-sector collaboration, and moving from one-shot programs or interventions to more systemic, multi-tiered strategies. We’ve also engaged other strategies that the article didn’t cover, including legislation drafting, litigation, policy research, budget advocacy, and community organizing.

Nimbly juggling multiple tactics and strategies is hardly the modus operandi of “simplistic” organizations “built on flawed foundations focused on symptoms, rather than on deeper systemic change.” Certainly, there are some organizations that fall into that category, but many more use thoughtful and nuanced approaches to fundamental change around problems that are anything but simple. In fact, our experience shows that despite incorporating the very tactics the authors suggest, organizations often end up in the same place as Shore, Hammond, and Celep now find themselves: perennially struggling to resolve problems that have complex and messy roots.

In short, what the authors describe in their article is necessary but not sufficient for transformational change...

Continue reading To Get to the Good, You Gotta Dance With the Wicked on Stanford Social Innovation Review.