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The People Who Can Connect the Dots – Graduates of 2013 Summer Institute

Shamiela Mir's picture

The Third Summer Institute in Communication and Governance Reform came to a close on June 7, 2013. The participants completed a very intense yet extremely enriching two weeks of learning from world-class researchers and thinkers in strategic communication in a close-knit setting.

As mentioned in my previous blog, the program was developed with an understanding that successful implementation of policy reforms requires behavior change which can only be induced when non-technical, real life issues that relate to people and politics are treated as priority along with technical issues.  Human behavior is at the core of why things happen the way they do, whether we are talking about why some people smoke, or why some politicians implement policies that are detrimental to their country.

During the 10-day course, participants were introduced to the theoretical underpinnings of this idea presented above, in addition to its practical application in real-life ‘technical’ contexts, ranging from implementing procurement reform in the Philippines to eradicating obesity in Los Angeles County. Recognizing how human behavior is at the core of why things happen, participants learned how to apply strategic communication processes to identify, understand stakeholders, and adapt their strategies to induce behavior change among stakeholders and/or implement policy reforms.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Ernest J Wilson III, the Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California talked about the “Third Space talent”. Through his research, he found that that many fortune 500 companies are desperately seeking people with Third Space talent which is “a set of critical communications competencies - not just skills, but attitudes, perspectives, experience and substantive knowledge...” – that are currently not produced by engineering schools or MBA programs. These include the “ability to demonstrate agility by recognizing new patterns and rapidly iterating, adapting and collaborating; absorb the unprecedented volume, velocity and veracity and variety of unstructured data arising from various sources and connect the dots in meaningful ways; and think in a 360⁰ context that encompasses systems and experiences as well as interactions.’’ According to Dean Wilson, business and engineering “underestimate ‘context’, i.e., awareness of the dense system within which technology and business must operate, and the complex, dynamic networks that link society, technology and business”.

This idea is very much relevant to international development. These non-technical skills are not part of economics or engineering degrees that occupy the majority of development jobs and those with such skills, many of them with international affairs, communications and/or anthropology degrees do not occupy these jobs. The “non-linear thinking” and thinking beyond economic models are not seen very often in development projects, yet we see time and time again, technically sound projects facing challenges or at times failing due to operating environments full of ‘non technical’ issues related to culture, stakeholders, and political economy. Many projects that have run into trouble with stakeholders are in fact, technically sound but did not adequately understand the operating context and the non-technical issues that shape the context.

Furthermore, the contexts under which international development agencies like the World Bank operate are  immensely complex as it is for private sector, and it is becoming increasingly so as the world becomes more and more interconnected through technology. In addition, the operations of such agencies are becoming more visible due to new sets of technologies that allow people to instantly share information globally. This makes these operations even more vulnerable to non-technical issues such as stakeholder perception and problematic human behavior.

In this operating environment, people with “third space talent” are much needed to be able to maneuver around new types of curve balls and remain cutting edge and survive in the highly competitive playing field of international development. The graduates of the Summer Institute 2013 have been equipped with this third-space talent and are ready to take on new challenges.

Congratulations, class of 2013!

Photo Credit: Stephan Kiessling@Flickr
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