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Impact Networking

It’s hard to think about making plans these days, be it personal, professional, or on behalf of your organization. Circumstances, protocols, guidelines, and mandates are consistently changing and it’s difficult to know if your plan will be achievable in 3 months’ time. Still, this does not mean go home, give up, and make no plans at all! Instead, it’s why Impact Networking, a type of Strategic Planning, is crucial now more than ever.

An Impact Network is a method used to identify the possible effects of major incidents on the future of an organization. It’s a tool used to consider all possible outcomes of a situation (not just the probable ones) with an end-goal not necessarily to problem-solve. Yes, an exercise where you don’t have to have all the answers. Finally! It is a technique meant for brainstorming and identification. It can raise awareness and identify impact areas and what might be done to mitigate negative impacts or amplify positive impacts.

Our teams of Strategic Planners and Board Developers have taken Impact Networking and reformatted it for our clients in response to COVID-19.

How does the exercise work?
A facilitator will split up Board Members into working groups of 2 or 3 (no more than 5 people total). Each group is assigned a category to brainstorm (for example: clients, staffing, projects, events, etc.). They are asked questions such as “What impact did COVID-19 have on clients?” (or on staffing, projects, events, etc.) and they work within their group to answer. The facilitator will chart what each groups’ response is.

As explained by Gail Bower, this analysis is called First-Order Impact. It’s intended to get the creative juices flowing and imaginations working to provide some ideas on what actions an organization can take to create the most appealing outcome in the future.

Next, you guessed it, is the Second-Order Impact exercise.

The group takes what they’ve identified in the first order and discusses the fall-outs from that. If the answer to the question in the first order (“What impact did COVID-19 have on clients?”) was that the organization was no longer open to its clients, couldn’t serve them, or clients had to remain socially distant, then the second impact would ponder the ramifications of this. For example, the clients may experience depression, they might act out, or they may be happy they don’t have to leave their homes, etc. Various scenarios are considered. Not only are answers not a pre-requisite for this exercise, but there are no wrong answers either. This type of open-forum freedom lends itself the generation of more diverse and open-minded responses, a critical component of this exercise. The group can then continue on to a Third-Order Impact, although by this point patterns typically begin to reveal themselves. With the patterns, the team is usually able to see a situation in a new light. Perhaps most importantly, it allows for an organization to make intrepid decisions because they are ready for uncertainties they weren’t even aware existed prior to the exercise. Eureka!

It is worth noting that this exercise can be done at various levels within an organization; management and employees can partake, not just the C-suite or Board Members (although that is most common). The exercise results are typically shared with the CEO or Board Members once complete. This practice is incredibly worthwhile because it reassures your Board that they have more information than they might realize and that this information can be revealed in less of a stoic, corporate conversation, but in more of a relaxed exercise/dialogue-friendly environment.