Actionable insights: the missing link between analysis and impact
“The task is not so much to see what no one else has yet seen but to think what nobody yet has thought about yet everybody sees” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Building inclusive stable political settlements is considered an essential process for building peace and stability. This process leads to the establishment or reshaping of institutions that align interests amongst powerful elite actors and between elite interests and the broader array of interests in society . In fragile contexts, international assistance often has a major influence over these settlements and in many cases entrenches existing agreements that are exclusionary and destabilising. As a consequence, there has been an emerging focus amongst international donors to better understand the effect of political settlements on inclusivity, economic development and levels of violence.
Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of analytical tools to help organisations improve their understanding of the key elements of political settlements. Tools such as political economy analysis, actor mapping and conflict audits, are being used to inform country strategies promote inclusiveness, development and stability. However, despite the increase in information and data, these analytical tools still struggle to translate analysis into actionable insights that can help navigate these complex political processes.
In this blog, I will explore what makes insights actionable and how to extract these insights so they can inform strategies that build more durable and inclusive political settlements.
The challenge of extracting actionable insights
Actionable insights are inferences derived from the analysis that lead to strategic decisions, which drive action. It is important to note that not all insights are actionable. In fragile contexts, many analytical tools most frequently focus on the national level with much less attention to the regional, transnational issues. Whilst this provides valuable insights into the structural issues, it often fails to fully grasp the dynamics of the conflict, the entrenched systems of power, the messiness of competing interests and the predatory nature of relationships . At the same time despite the overwhelming recognition, analyses are rarely updated frequently. This both exacerbates the difficulty of providing meaningful analysis of often rapidly evolving dynamics, and leads to individual pieces of analysis quickly being dismissed as ‘out-of-date’ . As a consequence this presents several challenges for generating actionable insights:
- There tends to be an insufficient analysis of the specific interests, power dynamics and relationships directly affecting the levers programmes control or influence. This makes it difficult to interpret and convert strategically aligned insights into tactical responses;
- Analysis tends to be trapped in detailed reports that key decision-makers infrequently access, therefore is often not delivered to the right person at the right time;
- Analysis often lacks novelty and instead reinforces rather than challenges or evolves current knowledge and beliefs. As a result, practitioners tend to become numb to insights and fail to give them sufficient consideration.
How can we uncover actionable insights?
To begin generating actionable insights, we need to rethink the types of questions we are asking when we collate data, the way we organise this data, present our analysis and how we learn. Greater attention needs to be placed on uncovering the underlying interests of individual actors, how we consider and measure power and also how we understand relationships.
To discover these actionable insights Dialectiq is working on ways to understand what type of quantifiable and qualitative data should be collated and how this data should be processed and presented. This is leading us to explore ways to:
- Collate data on how different actors’ interests, relationships and distribution of power relates to achieving stable political settlements;
- Collate data on interests, relationships and distribution of power that is comparable across different actors, different geographic areas and across time;
- Visualise formal and informal power arrangements amongst elite groups but also across different sections of society;
- Visualise ways to explain how interests, relationships and distribution of power is undermining the stability of political settlements;
- Visualise different type of insights that is relevant to different types of decision makers;
- Help organisations think outside the box, such as identifying non conventional actors that have power and influence to engage in the process or identify entry points that had not previously been considered;
- Specifically explain how relationships can be transformed through the alignment of interests;
- Display ways to track relationships as they transform and how this affects wider power dynamics.