Reflections of FSFE GA & Mission Impact

Over the weekend, I participated in the FSFE general assembly for its staff and members of the board. I’ve been a member of the board for the organisation since it’s founding in 2001 so it carries a special place in my heart. Aside from the official assembly, which took place on Sunday afternoon, the weekend was filled with strategic planning and considerations about the future work of the organisation.

Inspiration for this came from the book Mission Impact: Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits by Robert M. Sheehan. It outlines in part a process through which an organisation can work through to elaborate or develop its mission, organisational structure, goals and measures.

Together with Karsten Gerloff (president), Henrik Sandklef (vice president) and Matthias Kirschner, we spent most of Friday stepping through the process ourselves. Drafting a mission statement, discussing it, revising it, and all through this talking about how the process can run in a single day in a larger group and what methods to use for moderating the process. We had some success at this and on Saturday, Matthias and Karsten put the process in motion for a first trial run  involving the entire participating board and staff. Additional work on strategy will be part of our work for 2014.

What I feel we can learn from our first run of the process is:

  • Working through a process to define a strategy is a highly iterative process. In the later steps of the process, we often felt a need to go back and revise the mission statement, and other details and decisions that we’d taken.
  • Keep an eye on your focus! Are you doing X, because it leads to Y, or are you working towards Y, and that’s why you’re doing X. It’s subtle details like this that could actually overturn your entire thinking.
  • Sticky notes are good. Yay sticky notes!
  • It’s hard being creative — us scheduling a 20 minute walk (in pairs) after lunch was a really good idea and could be extended. 30 minutes is probably good.
  • Removing all tables and power extensions from the room efficiently enforces a no laptop policy.
  • It’s really difficult to moderate a large group of people and to come to rough consensus around difficult questions. In our first run, it helped that Matthias and Karsten broke some deadlocks by forcing us to continue working even if we didn’t have consensus on some previous steps of the process. In a larger process, with similar creative sessions, having a professional moderator familiar with the work and expected outcomes would definitely contribute positively.

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