How Can One Solution Solve Multiple Social Impact Concerns?

by S. Creastam

One Solution

A solution solving multiple concerns actually combines answers in a way. Much like a Venn diagram, this solution finds the overlap that accounts for different perspectives. It also tries to find a fair outcome that’s a win-win and “equal” among the stakeholders.

Thinking about overlap and equal brings to mind the word balance.

How would you define the word balance? What do you imagine when you think of the word? What if we think of the word balance in another light?

We’ll start with a literal approach: checking what’s mentioned in the “official” definition of balance. While looking at the couple of definitions Google lists for this word, the following phrases stand out:

  • “even distribution”
  • “correct proportions”
  • “compare the value”

Make note of your definition and these phrases, but don’t hold onto them too tight. Let’s explore how balance plays a role in social impact.

A Lesson on Balance

Teachers ask this decades-old question (or a variation of it) to elementary school students:

“What weighs more: One hundred pounds of feathers or 100 pounds of bricks?”

The answer is they weigh the same. A pound is a pound, and 100 lbs equals 100 lbs. Still, there’s actually a different lesson to take from here about balance.

Below illustrates an imaginary version of 100 lbs of feathers and 100 lbs of bricks on a balance scale.

-> image of scale <-

A pile of feathers weighing 100 lbs is noticeably larger than a stack of bricks weighing 100 lbs.

Feathers tend to weigh much less than bricks. Since feathers are so light compared to bricks, you’d need more feathers to reach an equal weight of bricks. Balance isn’t simply about being an exact equal or a 50/50 split. A situation finds balance from recognizing the characteristics of what’s being weighed and how that impacts what it takes to achieve an equal weight.

Another way to say it…

In order to reach an even distribution, you must compare the value of individual elements before you find the correct proportions.

For social entrepreneurship, this looks like understanding the characteristics of stakeholder concerns.

Problem solving like this switches your focus from surface level observations to nuanced observations, similar to the idea of equity. The difference is that this view of balance is more about cause & effect rather than imbalances.

“Balance” : A mentorship program offers internship resources to their college student volunteers who mentor high schoolers about college applications.

Equity : A local business incubator adopts the sliding scale payment structure to provide access to people with low income.

Why is it so easy to overlook interlinked problems in social impact?

Now, in the middle of building out your solution, you could accidentally overlook concerns. That’s not uncommon. Here are three reasons social entrepreneurs may overlook interlinked problems so you can backtrack and adjust your approach:

1) There’s not enough information.

Researching a social impact concern is not a straightforward process. Sometimes you’ll inquire about a concern and communities don’t have enough data or shared perspective to make a decision about the concern. A lack of information may mean an initiative will learn more as they work. Ultimately, the initiative inspires the community to start keeping records and tracking data.

The same issue could come up if the inquiry into a concern doesn’t prompt for the most helpful or relevant information. How many times could you have gained something if you had asked a different question? Initiatives could shift the questions they ask to find out what’s going on with a concern.

2) The concern lives in a blind spot.

A blind spot is the perfect example of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Social entrepreneurs could miss interlinked concerns if they’re unaware of the concern. This could happen if they don’t know a part of the concern’s process or a certain path within the concern.

Imagine it’s a factor inside a path you don’t monitor closely so you didn’t know the issue existed.

We can use an example involving a rural community.

A social enterprise creates a local thrift & repurpose shop in a rural area. The initiative decides to set up a shuttle bus to the shop so locals can access the shop and the sewing workshops they host. While speaking to people in the community, the team learns how much people would like for the shuttle to stop at the local department store.

The local department store is where people can get supplies, visit an ATM, and grab a snack before coming to the shop. People don’t have many other chances to get to the department store since the area doesn’t have a transportation system. The initiative and community start working towards a plan to expand the shuttle system in a way that benefits them both.

3) The solution holds unintended consequences.

Sometimes solutions have unintended negative impacts. You do one thing to improve something, but don’t realize it’s actually messing with something else.

For example, “wood-wide web” scientist Suzanne Simard makes a podcast appearance to talk about her thoughts on the Mother Tree and forests being a community. She mentions a land project that included Douglas Fir trees and Paper Birch trees where a team decided to cut the Paper Birch trees.

Turns out those trees harbor a bacteria that fights a disease plaguing the Douglas Fir trees. They didn’t notice until the Douglas Fir trees started dying more quickly. By cutting the Paper Birch as part of their solution, they stirred up a negative ripple for the Douglas Fir.

Two Factors for One Solution to Solve Multiple Concerns

For one solution to solve multiple concerns, the solution needs a mix of perspective, data, and balance. Two factors help you pull these aspects together: design thinking and impact measurement.

Design Thinking helps social entrepreneurs map out the approach, actions, and stakeholders involved in their possible solution.  This method provides a foundation for ideas, but you can make this a continual process. Your team would have a report to reference and edit as the initiative gets further into your project.

Impact measurement helps social entrepreneurs track the results of their efforts. You have a say in what you choose to measure and report, since your project may have unique circumstances to track. Your team can research common social impact measurement practices or find examples in reports. Impact measurement is not yet strictly outlined, so there is room for innovation and collaboration.

One Solution Does Not Solve Everything But…

It seems best to take a pause every now and then to consider how a solution impacts different paths and stakeholders. You never know what you could discover when you revisit a solution. Being open to shifting your approach could change the trajectory of the project, a stakeholder’s life, or even your own path.

One solution does not solve everything, but the ripple of one solution can create significant impact for multiple concerns. Most social impact concerns are an ecosystem. The more we can think about the flow of the big picture, the more solutions result in a positive-sum game.

One Solution
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