We Challenge the Status Quo
Collective-action theory shows that actors within the same context, when faced with a common problem will not act in common as a matter of course, even when other actors agree. Each actor is embedded in a complex web of interests and incentives, arising from their closest relationships through to their furthest external influence.
In other words, the mere presence of a common problem does not determine the behaviour of the actors involved. It only provides an opportunity for collective action to happen (Curini, 2007).
Ascot’s approach as an agent of impact is to refocus the theory of change from interlocutors as mere ‘organisations’ to interlocution as a process.
We use a learning-process approach to focus on actions that are useful for building specific relationships within the various incentive-entanglement situations; then we use evidence of what works to identify and support groups or organisations that have the characteristics to create change.
Past as Prologue – Local Experience as a Precursor for Intervention Success
Reversing the conventional image of the implementer – end user process, Ascot’s project design begins with the local experience.
By creating meaningful linkages building on local experiences and expressed needs, Ascot assists stakeholders not in shaping existing frameworks to reach their full potential, but step beyond their limitations through identification and avail of previously unexplored opportunities for growth.
Core Principles of Positive Change
Taking an idea from inception to viable project naturally requires a deep understanding of each of the components that drive and make up what for a number of years now, has been labelled the “ecosystem” – the environment and all its facets within which ideation ultimately transforms into impact.
To achieve this, Ascot adheres to a number of principles rooted in the very characteristics applicable to every ecosystem (F.E. Smith, 1966):
1. Local Capacity is Key
“Ecosystems mature by passing from less complex to more complex states. Early stages of such succession have an excess of potential energy and a relatively high energy flow per unit biomass.”
Socio-economic factors, such as unemployment, food insecurity, lack of market or supply chain access, gender-, or age-based marginalization, while on one hand stunting ecosystemic growth and trapping populations within a perpetual cycle of poverty, on the other create vast quantities of untapped potential.
It is our mission to seek out and grow this potential to its full capacity in all our projects.
2. Interlocution as a Force Multiplier
“The relative amount of energy needed to maintain an ecosystem depends on its structure. The more complex the structure, the lesser the energy it needs to maintain itself.”
In the end, it is only when the whole of a project is bigger than the sum of its parts, that it realizes its true potential for transformation.
By identifying, nurturing and growing synergies, we create a collective-action platform designed to capitalize on stakeholders’ unique capacities, thus reducing the need for ‘heavy lifting’ along the value chain.
For us, synergy means much more than just “working together.” It is the “bringing-together” of minds, of different backgrounds and outlooks, of values and aspirations, which on the surface may not always be completely aligned, all play an important part as entities and contributors within a shared ecosystem.
3. Do No Harm
“Alterations in the environments represent selective pressures upon the population to which it must adjust. Organisms which are unable to adjust to the changed environment .”
Identification and active recognition of the delicate social, economic, cultural and other balances within a local, national, or regional environment, is an indispensable prerequisite to avoid unintentional introduction of stressors leading to further marginalization and exclusion. Conventionally the ‘Do No Harm’ principle
Whilst this is certainly necessary, if not essential, it is often a step relegated the programmatic design phase, ultimately finding its home in a log frame, without further evaluation or deep-dive exercises along the implementation route. This can become problematic, especially in multi-year projects and initiatives where impact is either gradual, or full fruition is only achieved towards the end of the project life cycle.
Through strategic creation of lateral and vertical linkages along every juncture, Ascot employs a critical control point modality providing a highly sensitive early warning system for project indicators of ‘Boiling Frog’ syndrome, not only averting harm in the conventional sense, but assuring the agility required to turn potential threats into actionable opportunities.
4. Social Capital
We believe social capital is critical for strengthening relationships and trust-based
networks between collective-action stakeholders. It is also useful in the process of building synergies, increasing cooperation and communication. At local level, projects do not normally aim at these elements, instead focusing on individual entities, resulting in a top-down approach, which in turn can lead to contextual detachment and adverse ecosystemic disruption.
Building social capital as a value chain commodity, thus, is one of Ascot’s core strengths. Utilizing relationships to raise and maintain awareness, to increase the level of knowledge through interaction of entities ordinarily removed from each other by virtue of market modalities and systems, and to create a participatory environment of “learning by doing” at project level, is at the center of our mission.
5. The Power of Convergence
It all starts (and ends) with the cultivation of trust-based relationships among the actors involved and the recruitment of contributions to help the process (such as ideas, resources and other kinds of influence), while recognizing and actively acknowledging that the contributors likely also have self-serving incentives and interests to be addressed.
This point – the need to focus the intervention on context-specific relationships – by extension shows us the crucial need to find and support the right interlocutors of change in order to enhance productive engagement as a mechanism for strengthening collaboration for maximum impact.
Ascot’s approach, thus, is to move away from a preoccupation with actors and actor categories, towards a focus on defining the relationships that can enable actors to facilitate, catalyze and manage, change.
Driving the convergence of unique qualities, expertise, resources and capacities, regardless of actor category, brings about symbiotic, pan-sectorial relationships beyond the confines of established labels, resulting in a powerful pooling of targeted resources dedicated to positive change.