Supporting organisations facing disruptive change

IIED's disruptive change initiative is developing research on how best to support civil society organisations facing disruptive change.

September 2017 - ongoing
Lila Buckley

Senior researcher, Natural Resources

A volcano can erupt with little warning, and have significant impact on its surrounding environment (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

A volcano can erupt with little warning, and have significant impact on its surrounding environment (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Disruptive change has been at the forefront of the international news in 2016 and 2017. Governments and organisations in the developed world are reeling from the political and strategic shocks delivered by election results, migration crises, urbanisation and technology.

For many organisations in low income countries in the global South, disruptive change is a fact of life. National and local governments, civil society organisations (CSOs) and researchers work daily in environments that are turbulent, unpredictable, challenging or hazardous. 

What is disruptive change?

Change is constant; but IIED understands disruptive change as a major change with lasting and significant organisational impact. Drivers of disruptive change include natural disasters, conflict, migration and rapid urbanisation, financial instability, as well as political and technological change. 

Within organisations, disruptive change can demand new organisational missions or ways of operating. Its impacts are often most immediately felt through budget crises, changing donor priorities, staff changes or rapidly evolving technology.

Disruption isn't inherently negative – it can provide space for innovation – but adapting to disruptive change demands support and skills. Both civil society organisations in the global South and their partners and funders need to grapple with shifts in the development landscape, and also understand the realities of working in an environment characterised by disruptive change. 

The IIED disruptive initiative aims to support leaders of Southern CSOs in peer exchange on disruptive change. IIED is also working to understand and communicate ways for international development organisations and funders more effectively to support Southern CSOs that are experiencing disruptive change. 

What is IIED doing?

In May 2015, with financial support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), IIED began to explore how CSOs in the global South are addressing disruptive change. We started by researching concepts and theories about disruptive change. There is significant literature on disruptive change in business, but far less relating to CSOs in developing countries. 

Our next step was to organise a workshop with IIED partner organisations and donors to identify themes for further investigation.

We used this material to carry out a series of interviews with leaders of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) leaders and experienced development practitioners in middle- and low-income countries. The interviews looked at how NGOs are addressing disruption and the key elements for 'getting good at disruption'. 

We published our research in a working paper, Getting good at disruption in an uncertain world: Insights from Southern NGO leaders. Our aim was to share the insights of NGO leaders with development organisations and donors, to help them gain a deeper understanding of the realities and needs of CSOs in the Global South.

To accompany this, we developed presentations to help international NGOs and the UK's FCDO work through the implications for them of disruptive change in Southern CSOs.

IIED also published a report for funders, setting out strategies to help them better design and implement funding programmes that are supportive and effective in disruption-prone environments. 

Looking forward

We are working to identify and communicate strategies which can help CSOs be more resilient to the impacts of transformative change. These include encouraging collaborative working, providing support for strengthening resilience within CSOs and promoting knowledge sharing across organisations and countries.