This past weekend, I attended some talks and performances about the intersection of coding and sound. There was a dance performance that relied on motors controlled by code, an electronic music masterpiece with striking visuals overlaid on real-time coding, and an “orchestra” performance led by a conductor with sensors on his hands connected to computer-based music. I left the events knowing I saw and heard what I could not have 60 years ago, and feeling excited about how innovation can drive experiences we haven’t yet imagined.
Part of my evolving role at Foundation Center is to help us think more deeply about intelligence gathering and innovation. Drawing inspiration from a mix of cartoons, writing, workshops, and smart data visualization, the goal is to ask smarter questions to get deeper answers that we make time to listen to and that lead to sustainable improvements in how we work and build knowledge in the sector. The two concepts go hand in hand; innovation is done better with background knowledge, and gathering intelligence from people and data streams is done better when there are clear, forward-facing lines of inquiry.
It can be hard to prioritize intelligence gathering and innovation, because we don’t have to do either. However, as with every organization, there’s a lot that we could – and should – do better. We could better use analytics to understand how valuable certain content is, and then focus new content creation on more optimal formats and substance. We could start providing training on how to use all of the new resources we are releasing. We could crack the nut of how to substantively connect grantmakers and nonprofit organizations in person while defusing embedded power dynamics. As a 60-year-old organization, we have to build in listening, responsiveness, and development into everything that we do, and we have to evolve to continue to meet your evolving needs.
In the vein of “meeting people where they are,” we’re going to build in opportunities to learn and pioneer new approaches in everything we’re already doing. Intelligence gathering and innovation will be part of a smarter and more integrated way of working. We’ve already started this through GrantCraft with surveys, new content types, and human-centered design approaches to new resources. It’s easy for us all to plug away at our mission without pausing to iterate, because there’s so much that we’re already committed to doing that has to be done now. But, if all of us – regardless of the size or age or focus of your organization – take a step back to build in listening and iterating, we will amplify the impact of this sector.
This letter originally appeared in yesterday's GrantCraft newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter and special alerts, register for free.