Creating a “culture of reflection”

Seven years ago, when I found myself actively involved with the social sector, I was deeply touched by the sheer number of interesting and passionate people I started meeting, all with a common goal of doing good. The reaction to the projects I worked on, the feedback from those who it touched made the whole shift from the corporate sector so totally worth it!

As I understood the sector better, and the process of running high impact social projects better, I realised that in so many cases, that the impact could have been so much more had it been captured well, gaps analysed and addressed to make the processes more efficient. In many cases, there is a strong “culture of doing” but an active “culture of reflection” is missing.

In one of the projects we at niiti were working on, where large scale rural livelihood initiatives have been deployed, we were amazed at the sheer scale of operations, the dedication of the staff and the commitment of the organisation for grassroots level change. Its admirable because bringing large scale change at the grassroots isn’t the easiest thing. It takes a lot of hard work, unflinching commitment and selfless people to make it work.

But sometimes, “doing” can overwhelm and consume one so much that one forgets to pause to reflect. Given that almost all social sector projects are run rather frugally, determining from time to time whether processes can improved to make them more efficient may actually be more helpful in achieving the final mission.

Monitoring and evaluating (M&E) projects on a regular basis help bring in a “culture of reflection”, and help identify gaps and inefficiencies in running operations, so that they can be improved or changed to achieve better results. This of course, is easier said than done. Often, to implement a good M&E design in an organisation requires change management strategies as a precursor. For, passionate grassroots workers may feel uncomfortable with the M&E team scrutinising their work, and may resist or rubbish the whole process in its entirety. These are legitimate concerns and absolutely need to be addressed. I recently chanced upon a wonderful site ( where some examples of the right approach to bringing in this reflective culture through implementation of a good M&E process are.

Often, monitoring and evaluation as a task is thought of as an end tool to “measure” social impact. Yes, it definitely could have uses to measure social impact, but creating organisations that are open, adaptable and focussed on achieving  their social mission through processes that are most effective in a dynamic environment is a far greater output of having monitoring and evaluation programmes as an integral part of operations.

Meena has had aMeena_Vaidyanathan (1) long and accomplished career across business development, marketing, and public affairs since 1994. She has conceptualized and executed a number of innovative brand management and global marketing strategies for some of the world’s best known technology companies.  A chance encounter with the founder of Dialogue Social Enterprise in 2007 and a few months of active volunteering with the differently-abled, Meena decided to leverage her expertise and experience towards running campaigns that bring about social change. She is a member of the core group at Dialogue Social Enterprise and consults with both for-profit and not-for profit organizations in various capacities. Meena is a visiting faculty on marketing in many business schools. 


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