Could a framework tailored to your organisation be your key to achieving impact?

I spent most of 2023 working with a large international NGO in designing their global social and behaviour change framework. Upon reflecting on the process, I wanted to share some of the key reasons why organisations should follow suit and invest in their own customised frameworks. I think these reasons apply to any organisation: NGO, philanthropic foundation, institutional funder, private company, or startup. The principles are the same in that designing for any kind of change requires articulation of how the process should work. The organisation may want to see change happen amongst its grantees, its clients or its service users.

First let’s unpack what we mean by ‘framework’.

What is a framework?

A framework describes the steps that your team takes to developing projects, products or services and how that will lead to a desired outcome. This outcome is a change in behaviour which can be, for example, buying a product or taking up a service. A good framework should be accompanied by a theory of change, a short narrative document that includes visual elements that articulates how your organisation hypothesizes and predicts the change will happen.

Suppose we are starting a social profit company that specialises in teaching girls in low-income communities how to code. We could choose to start by adopting a generic framework:

We would find several frameworks that we could adopt. However, we might quickly realise that we need to tweak this process to make it speak more clearly to what our organisation specialises in. After consultation with the team and key stakeholders, our organisation might decide that a better description of the process to follow would be:

Now, we would have taken a generic process (understand, design, test, implement, evaluate) and made it relevant to our area of expertise, our clients and our team.

A common area of confusion is between ‘framework’ and ‘theory’. They are not the same thing. A framework explains how a process should ideally unfold and a theory describes how and why change happens.

So, here are some of the benefits I see from designing a bespoke framework.

1.     An opportunity to reflect on your methodology and identify your unique selling point.

The process of articulating your framework is a great opportunity to unpack what makes you stand out as an organisation. As you articulate your methodology and how you go about designing your projects, products and services, you will begin to unpack and identify these unique attributes. The process will make it clearer why others should work with you. The outcomes of this process also feed in well to the organisational strategic plan. The framework and theory of change themselves can become an integral part of the organisation’s mission and vision.

2.     A way to give structure to how your team works.

Some social profit organisations work across multiple countries and thematic areas. Having a framework guide the way that work is done is a wonderful way to compare results across geographies and teams. It also gives an opportunity to elevate the elements that are working well and build on those. At the same time, learning helps to eliminate wasteful processes.

3.     Makes what you want to measure clear.

Following a structured process will greatly increase the level of detail and precision you can ask for from internal and external evaluators. A key area that frameworks and theories of change help with is whether you have implemented your process with fidelity. Some products, services and interventions might not yield the results desired, but before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it is important to assess whether the process was carried out as intended. After this fundamental detail is addressed, we can then move on to assessing which elements worked and which didn’t.

4.     Enhances adaptability to changing contexts.

The contexts and topics that we work on change quickly. Having a bespoke framework allows an organisation to respond to new challenges and opportunities in an agile manner. It serves as a foundation for the team to modify intervention strategies or pivot their approach while remaining aligned with the organisation’s core mission and values. By doing so, the organisation can adapt to external changes without losing sight of its objectives.

5.     Facilitates effective communication and collaboration.

By establishing a common language and clear guidelines, a bespoke framework helps diverse teams and stakeholders effectively communicate and collaborate towards shared goals. It streamlines coordination, reduces misunderstandings, and ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding the organisation’s change strategy. This clarity improves synergy among team members and can increase engagement and buy-in from all involved parties.

What do you think about having a customised framework? Are there any other benefits or disadvantages you can think of? Share your thoughts here.

If you’d like to explore designing your organisation’s change framework, then book a free discovery call with me!