3. SCAN the landscape for opportunities

“To create significant and long-lasting changes, social entrepreneurs must understand and often alter the social system that creates and sustains the problems in the first place.”

—Greg Dees, Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Having articulated your issue and committed to a system-level approach, what to do next? You will want to acquire the insight, experience, and data necessary to unearth the missing ingredient that would trigger drastic improvements inside the social delivery system built up around the issue you are addressing.

There are many methods for assessing and scanning your local landscape for opportunities for the most effective intervention. Below are brief descriptions and tips for carrying out four possible processes of discovery:

Civic Discovery

Survey the institutional assets in the community—service providers, faith-based, community groups, small businesses.

  1. Start with those closest to the daily work, like frontline nonprofit and city employees.
  2. Use asset mapping as an opportunity to build rapport with local civic leaders.
  3. Include in planning key non-institutional assets like family and social networks.

System Discovery

Explore the relationships among actors inside the system, including barriers to entry.

  1. Assess level of competition and ability of strong outside talent to break through, asking whether funding is overly prescriptive and monopolistic.
  2. Evaluate whether and by what measures strategies are deemed successful.
  3. Determine if the system creates enough room for innovation.

Personal Discovery

Discover an intervention through listening, close observation, and personal experience.

  1. Use this process to identify what drives individual issues and challenges.
  2. Design highly nuanced responses.
  3. Find innovators excluded or marginalized by the larger social policy actors.

Predictive Discovery

Utilize decision-support or predictive-modeling systems to discern solutions in data.

  1. Mine new and existing data sets to find trends and predict future needs.
  2. Look to future data mining and analysis for more personalization.
  3. Learn from examples in health care predicting referrals and reducing patient error rates.

Click here for a SELF- ASSESSMENT template that can help in your own discovery process. It is designed to help you understand your local landscape (past efforts, barriers and constraints), local infrastructure (policy and funding) and local capacity (strategies, assets and resources).

In Action

How did social venture philanthropist Herb Sturz arrive at the innovative idea of putting homeless people to work cleaning up city neighborhoods?  As with many successful entrepreneurs, his innovations have come from personal experience, active listening and up-close observation. Sturz used to walk Manhattan’s Bowery, witnessing suffering but also talking to those in need.  His walks and the discoveries Sturz made through them helped him to create his next successful model.

Next: CRAFT your intervention