Adjacent (almost) possible and how projects influence priorities in companies

Companies constantly introduce changes, for various reasons and with different results. Talking about the change, it is needed to define what change should be introduced and what are the expectations from the change. In fact, it starts with expectations, i.e. goals, and then activities are defined to achieve desired goals. Sometimes, it is difficult to design goals precisely, but the direction of the action seems to be clear. Also, an always limiting factor is the resources the company has for making the desired change. It is interesting to observe interactions between companies and projects taking into account vector theory of change and adjacent possible (Vector theory of change –

Also, the company defines the direction it wants to go in, i.e. defines the area in which it wants to introduce changes. Then evaluates what is needed to achieve a change. From the point of view of the company, adjacent possible is something they can achieve with their own resources. So, no external resources and support are needed. Projects provide additional resources and support, so that adjacent possibilities are bigger. From the point of view of a company it would be adjacent almost possible, i.e. activities that they are interested in and have some, but not all, resources to undertake these activities. And exactly those missing resources come from projects, making the action possible for the company. Therefore, it is important for project designers and implementers to identify this adjacent almost possible area because their activities are focused exactly on that area, i.e. on something companies are willing to do, have some resources, but also lack some, so they cannot do that themselves, without external support. The support needed becomes a key focus of the project.

However, there are more things a company can achieve with their resources and even more if some support is provided. For example, a company may invest in new equipment or in human resources development. If the company does this with its own resources, it decides independently what will be the area of the first next investment. Participation in projects may change that. Namely, projects have their own agenda and by providing support to companies, they may influence the agenda and priorities of companies, who react to a project as an opportunity to do something they find useful, but not top priority. Also, the project increases possibilities of a company by adding resources but may also impact priorities of the company. For example, priority for the company without project support and influence may be equipment, but with project support and influence, renewable energy sources.

It may happen that these priorities are the same, of course, but the impression is that often projects target areas that are acceptable, but not a priority for a company. Thus, projects are influencing agenda of the company by imposing their priorities and stimulating the company to adjust their priorities and use the project as an opportunity for dealing with an issue that is needed, but not currently a priority for the company.

Sometimes project support may give the company an early incentive to enter the area that is increasingly important for long-term competitiveness, but it could also direct a company resource into a direction that is not the best option for the company at the given time, since there may be other areas that should be treated as priorities, promising better effect for the company. This emphasizes how important it is to design measures for supporting companies well.

Sustainability needs flexibility

One of the required aspects of every project is sustainability. It may be interpreted on various levels – as sustainability of project results, such as new jobs created within the project or as sustainability of structures established within the project, such as organization providing specific type of support to SMEs, for instance. Both results are subject to an ever-changing environment. Accordingly, jobs created within a project may not exist in five or ten years. It does not necessarily mean that this part of the project failed, since it may be the case that jobs created have evolved into more advanced positions or persons employed have found a better job. Also, it depends on how we define sustainability, i.e., which aspect of sustainability we observe. In the described example, is it sustainability of a position within an enterprise, is it a permanent, full-time employment of the employee, or it is employability of the person employed?

It gets more complicated when it comes to sustainability of structures established within the project. Namely, most often structures are established to perform certain function in a relevant landscape. For instance, a center for supporting the introduction of digital solutions in SMEs. Usually, the expectation of the funder as the entity that provided financial and sometimes technical support in the establishing phase is that the newly established center will continue to provide initially defined type of support to SMEs. In some cases, this works, in others, it does not. Why is that the case and how does this look from the point of view of sustainability?

The funders usually want the newly established organization to provide the type of support they believe is needed for SMEs in the long period of time. Even though this type of support may be high on their agenda it may not be high on the agenda of most enterprises. It means that market demand for this type of support is not strong enough to ensure sustainability of the newly established organization if the sustainability is defined as capability to cover costs of existence and services of organization through selling the services in the market. So, there are two options – either the funder continues to fund the organization that continues to provide defined type of service, thus turning from funder into a client, or the organization adjusts its focus and capacities and starts providing services that are required in the market. It seems that, again, it is the role initially defined as needed vs. an ever-changing environment. In some cases, it may happen that initially defined services really become interesting to the target group, thus giving the opportunity to the organization to become sustainable without adjustments to the environment and market demand. But how likely it is nowadays, bearing in mind the dynamics of changes? So, if the sustainability of the organization is the goal, it should not be denied flexibility usually needed for adjusting and surviving in changing environment. Also, it may be considered as fair by the funder if the organization supported provided services required by the funder as long as funding was available, and once the financial support stops, from that point on it starts providing services required in the market. The capacity initially established will stay and the organization can start providing initially planned services again once the market demand occurs. This seems much more rational from the point of view of the funder than insisting on continuous focusing of the organization on services that are not required, thus bringing into question the sustainability of the organization.

Why SMEs do or don’t use advisory services

Time to time, a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) faces a task it cannot accomplish with the resources it has. In such cases, external resources are needed, either technology or human resources. When speaking about human resources, in some cases, the resources will be needed for longer period of time and the SME will hire new employee. However, sometimes human resources are not needed permanently, and in such cases the SME will hire an external expert for a limited period. All seems rational, but project experiences show that SMEs are not always willing to use external consultancy services, which then makes projects difficult to implement. Why is it often such a struggle with advisory services for SMEs? 

Observing reasons why SMEs use external services may clarify things. SMEs engage an external provider, advisory services included, mostly in three cases:

1) they must react and introduce changes required by relevant regulations,

2) they are facing a task where they have technology and know-how but not enough capacity to deliver result requested by the client, and

3) they do not have knowledge needed for completion of tasks they are facing, where the task may be              

3a) a requirement from the client, or

3b) an endeavor of the SME to introduce innovations.

Requirements coming from regulations are specific, being mandatory for SMEs, and common for the other above-mentioned cases is that the initiative, even if it comes externally, is well-understood and accepted by the SME, which being aware of the possible benefits, is ready to use the respective advisory services.

However, sometimes initiative for change in SMEs operations comes from projects and subsidy programs, which are defined on the basis of analyses, decisions, and opinions of the project funding/subsidy providing entity on what SMEs should do. This may be seen by SMEs as needed or not needed.

Accordingly, it seems there are three groups of consulting services:

1) those helping SMEs to meet requirements defined by law/rules, such as quality standards, which generally are seen by SMEs as a must and are therefore in demand and welcomed by SMEs;

2) those helping SMEs to respond to requirements coming from clients or to implement SMEs ideas generated internally, that are seen by SMEs as something that they can profit from in the short period, such as advising on new technology, recipes in food industry and similar, and thus SMEs are often ready to use them and to pay for that, and;

3) advisory services focused on changes in SME operations initiated by projects and subsidy programs, that, in current situation and according to SME’s understanding, SME cannot make profit from in short term, mostly because there are no necessary mechanisms and capacities (e.g. advisory in industrial design resulting in new product, but with no distribution and sales solved) and thus SMEs are rarely ready to use them.

Also, the new tasks may be required and defined by authorities, the demanding client or by the company itself, when trying to introduce innovations, i.e. to develop new products, improve business processes, introduce improvements in marketing and similar. According to SME’s understanding, all these include quite clearly visible and likely benefits for SMEs, achievable in rather short time and thus SMEs are interested in these changes and in services enabling the change. At the same time, projects are quite often designed with the future in mind, focusing on changes that, according to analyses and opinions of experts, are to come, and include respective advisory services, which are often not seen by SMEs as beneficial in short term and seem to have uncertain outcomes. And therefore, there’s a struggle.

How to overcome this situation? Apparently, SMEs readily use advisory services that they see as beneficial in the short term. So, the challenge is use of advisory services by SMEs that SMEs see as some kind of distant and uncertain future, thus not being willing to use them in short period of time. They may be more ready to use advisory services that they can benefit from in the long term, if they see that benefit as quite certain and achievable. Also, it may be good to provide information to SMEs, to explain why some services are proposed, why they are seen as needed, what benefits they can bring, and thus increase SME’s interest in these services. If even after the information is provided there is no interest of SMEs, then there is likely something wrong with assumptions and findings, or it is simply too far away in time. Either way, if one keeps such services in the project, there will be a struggle to get SMEs on board. On the other hand, the first steps in certain areas, such as digitalization and energy management, need to be taken and in some cases are well justified. So, this point of view should not lead to giving up promoting topics that, by all information and relevant opinions, are beneficial to SMEs in the long run, but rather to see things more clearly at the project design phase, to minimize struggles with participation once implementation starts. So, if the project is focused on advisory support that is in the third group described above, initial interest of SMEs will most likely not be high and stronger promotion will be needed. This is a pattern that seems to repeat with every topic new to SMEs.  

Can we make smart specialization a smart move?

Smart specialization is one of the concepts that is applied throughout the European Union. Preparation of smart specialization (I shall use abbreviation S3, although it is now developing into S4) strategic documents in Bosnia and Herzegovina is ongoing, so, I wanted to explore more about the topic, and while doing that, I was thinking about this concept in current context, linking this concept to some other concepts I am learning more about lately.

One of key methodological documents for S3 in EU, the Guide to Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisations (RIS 3) says that the underlying rational behind the Smart Specialisation concept is that by concentrating knowledge resources and linking them to a limited number of priority economic activities, countries and regions can become — and remain — competitive in the global economy (19fa7820-9522-3a52-fb81-6cb9115b6b9f ( The Guide gives a detailed description of steps in preparing the S3. Although the concept suggests taking into account the international perspective and engaging in foresighting, impression is that it is primarily focused on characteristics of a respective geographic area, which are taken as a starting point in strategy building process. It may be seen as rational, but it can also be limiting, especially for less developed areas, where it may turn out that they remain focused on areas that do not have a promising future, such as industries with low technology. Suggestion to avoid duplication may also be seen as limiting, and in the long term even harmful for the free market, with this suggestion being closer to centrally planned economy than to market economy, which should include free choice of market stakeholders.

Comparing the S3 strategies to other strategic documents, such as SME development strategy and similar, it seems that the key difference between S3 and other strategic planning approaches is that S3 should be more focused. That sounds like a rational approach, since better focus can result in better utilization of resources and thus achieving better results. But it also brings new challenges, the ones that other approaches do not have or at least they are not so emphasized. Analytical methods included in the methodology are primarily focused on the geographic area for which the S3 is being prepared. This brings up several questions.

First, is it possible to define S3 focusing only on data and information about the geographic area the strategy is being prepared for? Doesn’t look like that. Data on the area speak about the characteristics of the area, of course. And some of these characteristics, such as some of natural resources or set of specific skills is usually identified as an important resource. But these resources are often true resources only if observed in wider context. Natural resources of underdeveloped countries can hardly be considered as resources if observed only within the boundaries of the respective state, since their industry is often not strong enough to utilize these resources and to achieve the benefits. On the other hand, when observed in wider geographical area, in wider industrial surrounding, these natural resources can indeed be very important, because there are more developed countries that need and can use these resources. In fair cooperation between the developed and the underdeveloped country that owns natural resources, all can achieve full potential. If sustainable development is really a goal and intention, the cooperation should be such that both sides benefit, it should be on sound and fair basis, enabling the underdeveloped country to develop. Of course, developed country will benefit, too. For instance, lithium is now in demand because pressure on production of batteries is huge. But underdeveloped countries neither have the technology nor the market for big battery production, and if used only within the boundaries of the state, this resource would be underutilized. Underdeveloped countries could focus on their own resources and capacities, but then they would miss a number of potentially lucrative opportunities for economic development, coming from potential of cooperation with other countries. So, an internal resource often needs an external opportunity to achieve its full potential.

When talking about capacities in specific industry sector, consisting of infrastructure and knowledge needed for production of specific product, surrounding should also be considered, because capacities of the country can be significant inside the country, for instance a leading processing industry sector, but in international arena it can prove to be quite weak. For example, a textile industry can provide significant number of jobs in one country, but there may be other countries that are much stronger in this industry in terms of number of factories and potential of labor force, so that focusing on this industry sector in the long run can prove to be wrong for the country. The term “competitive” already indicates the concept is based on comparison with others, so S3 cannot be defined without considering the country’s environment.

Even if the team working on S3 takes into account the surrounding, i.e., other relevant areas and countries, it is far from easy to define well what should be a key focus of development processes in the forthcoming period. It is questionable if strategy preparation approaches that are primarily based on data about past events, such as statistical data, lead to desired results, i.e., if these data are good basis to define what is the best move for certain area to focus on in economic development. Taking into account more and more frequent and unexpected changes, it is hardly the case. There are several limitations in using statistical data as a basis for planning. First, it usually takes time to collect and process data, so once they are starting to be used in planning, they are already quite obsolete. Also, they reflect the change, not a cause of change, while to make a change, to influence the events, it is necessary to know the causes.

It is clearly very difficult to predict what would be the situation like several years from now, which should be done in preparing a strategy such as S3, because we need to define desired goals and path to achieving them. Is shortening the period for which the strategy is prepared a solution? Looks like it might be, but preparing strategy for shorter periods brings new challenges. Namely, it takes time to build capacities and infrastructure to achieve goals, and shorter periods do not offer enough time to do all that. Even if this is feasible, the built capacities and infrastructure may or may not be needed for the next strategic period, which may have new focuses. This means that new capacities and infrastructure would likely be needed for the next strategic period, which then requires new efforts and investments.

Is there an answer to all this?

Hard to say, but there are ideas, concepts, approaches, methods, and tools being developed, that look like they can help to overcome this situation. Complexity sensitive approaches look like they have some answers, since they point out that not in every situation causes and effects are known and provide concepts for acting in such situations. I am not saying that the approaches to strategic planning and project management that have been used so far do not work. They do, as proven in numerous interventions. But they also have limitations, especially in the rapidly changing environment as is the case in modern societies and in the modern world, with a high level of uncertainty. There are a number of cases when we are not sure what would be the result of our intervention, because the environment is rapidly changing, and it is not nearly under our control.

Also, focusing more on methods and tools that provide insights into peoples’ expectations and desires, rather than on data on past events, could be part of improvement. Such concepts are scenario methods, foresighting, and research with focus on expectations, such as some of IFO (ifo Institute) research, etc. This may be a much better basis for defining strategies, indicating future events probably better than data about the past. Of course, it brings new challenges in application, such as how to detect what people want, what they expect, what they shall do.

Even with improved methodology, it is hard to say that it will ever be possible to predict the future. Since future events cannot be foreseen, it seems better to try to create flexible structures with capacities to adapt to different circumstances that may occur in future, while achieving broadly defined targets. There are ideas on that line.

One of such approaches is presented in the paper Vector Theory of Change (VTOC paper 2022 (, where Linda Doyle says that traditional theory of change will not be useful when operating within a complex system and says that the Cynefin Company offers a different approach, developed by Dave Snowden, called vector theory of change. The author says that in order to manage complex environments, the focus needs to shift from lofty long-term goals to a cyclical process with four steps: start from where you are, setting direction & finding steppingstones, designing interventions, and continuous feedback.

In Bramble Bushes in a Thicket, Narrative and the intangibles of learning networks, ((PDF) Bramble bushes in a thicket | David Snowden –, Cynthia F. Kurtz and David J. Snowden emphasize the difference between the idealistic approach, where the leaders of an organization set out an ideal future state that they wish to achieve, identify the gap between the ideal and their perception of the present, and seek to close in, and naturalistic approaches, where by contrast, they seek to understand a sufficiency of the present in order to act to stimulate evolution of the system. It can be said that most of the strategic approaches applied now are in the area of idealistic approaches. In conditions of rapid changes, it is obviously a huge challenge. Therefore, it seems like a good idea to explore more about and develop tools for applying naturalistic approaches, which should provide needed flexibility. Is applying such an approach, with a less detailed strategic plan, but with more readiness to face the unexpected, a way to sustainability and resilience? Time will tell.

Partial solutions are not solutions

Solving a problem requires observing the problem from various points of view. If the problem is observed from only one point of view, regardless of how important that point of view may be, solution designed on basis of that observation will likely not be sufficient.

For example, an identified problem may be lack of cooperation between research & education institutions and enterprises. Often, as the main cause, lack of equipment is identified, i.e. these institutions do not have equipment needed for providing services to enterprises. It may be equipment needed for producing specific parts of prototypes or testing the product. Starting from there, interventions are focused on providing equipment for the institutions, so that their capacities are built to the level needed for providing support to enterprises.

And that is needed. But, most often, that is not enough. Having equipment is only one precondition that needs to be fulfilled in order to start providing services to enterprises. It is necessary, but not sufficient. There are also other preconditions that need to be fulfilled. And often these other preconditions are considered as if they are already fulfilled, without further considerations. In fact, assumptions are taken as facts. The assumptions, in this case, include that enterprises have a need for support, that research & educational institutions are willing to engage in providing the support, that they have human resources and procedures that enable this cooperation with enterprises.

However, in practice, this is often not the case. Even if the institution has the equipment, it still needs to develop procedures to make that equipment available to enterprises. They usually have staff with needed knowledge, but with no time and motive to engage in providing support to enterprises. Also, it must be defined how the enterprises access the equipment, who operates it, at what time, who covers the costs, how are human resources engaged. Of course, enterprises must be informed on these possibilities. Again, this is often not done. Therefore, providing equipment to research & education institutions does not entirely solve the problem of lack of cooperation between research & education institutions and enterprises, and consequently it doesn’t contribute significantly to solving the problem of enterprises lacking capacities for introducing innovations. Observing the problem from various points of view, may be a step towards the solution. Sometimes it will require safe to fail experiments to get all needed insights, and experiences from previous projects may also be helpful to get the clear and comprehensive picture of the problem. The next step may be to coordinate efforts of different stakeholders, so to ensure that designed solution is comprehensive, covering all key aspects of the problem. Only then, solution will work in practice, producing desired change.

At least, let’s stop making conclusions based on assumptions.

Weak signals in monitoring

Dynamic changes in modern world, modern life, require constant monitoring, constant awareness of changes in the environment in order to achieve sustainability of structures such as organizations and results of projects. And the sooner one becomes aware of change, the better one can prepare for using the emerging opportunity or avoiding emerging danger. Like in surfing, the surfer gets on the wave in an early phase and rides it when it becomes powerful. This also lights the subject from a different angle, i.e., weak signals are often seen as means to identify potential threats, but they can be as well used for timely identifying potential opportunity. So, it is essential to identify emerging change as early as possible. It makes concept of weak signals more and more important.

On the other hand, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to develop a methodology for identifying weak signals. Some opinions emphasize role of experts and that seems like a good starting point. Why are experts valuable? They have knowledge and experience. So, they already have deep understanding of the phenomena and know where to look for data and information indicating changes. When we analyze these benefits, experts seem to be a means to get what is really needed for detecting the emerging change timely and later for well-developed decision-making capacity, which is knowledge and updated information. So, experts may be very valuable in getting needed knowledge and information, resulting in decisions. They also can face stressful situation calmly, which is beneficial in conditions when the action is to be taken in short period of time and with limited information. Experience they have usually brings self-confidence (not arrogance) and capacity for well-thought reaction in short time in tense situations. We should keep in mind that experts are only one way for getting these values, there are also other ways, such as research, work of teams and networks, etc. which should be more explored from this point of view.

There is one more important category (that may or may not also be an expert), a decision maker. Namely, the longer one works on analyses and planning, the more one becomes aware of limitations of data in terms of early identification of future change. Data are useful, of course, but it should be kept in mind that data are just reflection of previous causes, which may no longer exist, or now function in different environment. So, in regard to getting information on what will happen, more than from experts, valuable information may come from decision makers. They know what they want and have means to realize that change. Also, they often have capacity to motivate people to contribute. Therefore, change which is in their focus is much more likely to create a change in reality, than some extrapolated event based on historical data.

Even if we can get weak signals on time, how do we filter what to take into account and what not to consider, how can we tell which signal is important and which is not? Again, methodology is very difficult, if not impossible, to create.

What can be done is to create an environment that enables and supports detection and use of weak signals. Encourage such behavior in the team (like psychological safety concept), set boundaries (following the idea of enabling constraints) to focus the efforts but eliminate obstacles to research and free thinking, and use safe to fail approach on signals that seem important. And see what happens. 

Inspired by The Flow System Training

Strategic planning – is it essence vs. techniques?

In The Will to Power, Nietzsche says that: „Specific characteristic of our nineteenth century is not victory of science, but victory of scientific method over science.” Is this happening to strategic planning? Are we more and more focused on technical aspects of the strategic plan and less and less on the content, the essence?

The essence of the strategy is to define what is to be achieved. It should be formulated clearly enough so that it is possible to prepare operational part, i.e. to elaborate how to achieve the defined goals. In practice, it often starts with collecting and analyzing data, to get comprehensive and clear picture where we are, what is our situation like. Then, we usually identify strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, the well-known SWOT analysis, and using this as a basis we focus on strategic goals. From that point on, process is more and more technical, focusing on how different elements of the strategy are formulated, are they harmonized with each other and similar. And that is needed, no doubt about that, especially if the implementation capacities are limited and need more detailed instructions on their role in implementation of the strategy. From the point of view of increasing probability of achieving defined goals through implementation of precisely described actions, this approach is fine.

But what is it that we are trying to achieve? Is focusing primarily on available resources a good starting point for defining strategic goals? Are we taking into account changes in the environment, global processes that do affect developments in local economies and in local communities in general, in companies, too? How can we get needed information that should be used to identify relevant developments in the environment, the ones having impact on development of the, let’s say, local community, the ones that smaller local communities must fit in, lacking capacities to influence these developments? In practice, strong determination of local leaders and entrepreneurs proves to be an important factor in defining and especially in achieving specific change, but how can we detect this determination? And how local leaders and entrepreneurs are defining their agenda, on basis of what?

All these questions are addressed to some extent, but it is hard to say if that is enough. In the strategic planning processes, energy is mostly used for creating a document of determined structure and defining all elements so that they meet certain methodological requirements. And that is all fine, as long as strategic goals are well defined. If they are not, we shall have a well-prepared plan to achieve something that is…well, something. Maybe the best for the community, or company, maybe not. And we will invest our energy and other resources in achieving these, at least questionable, goals.

Also, observing and considering rapidly changing environment and focusing more on defining the strategic goals, i.e., focusing on what we want, which also includes defining what we don’t want, should result in better strategies, better use of resources and achieving better results from the point of view of the wellbeing of the community.

Niče, Fridrih. (2012). Volja za moć. Beograd: Dereta, stranica 291

Monitoring Redefined

In the Principles of Personal Defense, Jeff Cooper starts the chapter about the principle one, alertness, saying that among the first maxims to be impressed upon new lieutenants is the one that “A commander may be forgiven for being defeated, but never for being surprised” (Cooper, 1989: 7). In modern societies, conditions change rapidly and avoiding surprises is not an easy task. Nor is to design and implement an intervention that leads to desired change in such environment. Lately, there are more and more cases proving that it may not be enough to implement the activities defined in the project design to achieve expected results and reach the goals.

Why is this so? First, when talking about development funds supported projects, there is usually a period between project design and implementation phase, a time that is needed for ex ante evaluation, ranking proposals, and contracting selected ones. Second, implementation takes time, in case of some projects two to three years or more. So, it may happen that several years pass from the moment of project design to the moment when the goals should be achieved. It should also be considered that project design phase uses statistics and some other data that most often are a year or more old. And things do change over time. And the changes will influence results and impact of the intervention. Therefore, it is needed to maintain awareness throughout the implementation of development intervention, about the intervention itself as well as about the environment.

This awareness, let’s call it so, should consider the initial project design. It is a starting point, after all, and if the intervention is designed properly there is no reason to ignore the initial plan. But to achieve desired change in conditions of rapidly changing environment, it may not be enough. Not only the intervention, but the environment itself should be continuously monitored.

Monitoring based on approaches like project cycle management (PCM) is good for closely following the implementation of an intervention, ensuring that the implementation follows the plan (European Commission. 2004). It also includes significant attention to administrative and regulative aspects of implementation, such as procurement and reporting. In some cases, in stable conditions, this may be good enough to achieve the defined results of the intervention, i.e. to achieve desired change.

However, in conditions of dynamic changes in the environment, which is almost a rule for development interventions in modern society, it will not be sufficient. The mentioned awareness thus gets richer since it must include influence of changes in the environment. It would be just too shortsighted to ignore events in the environment that do happen and do have impact on implementation of an intervention. Monitoring should be sensitive to such events, too. Therefore, it should not focus only on the initial plan and implementation of activities accordingly but should also grasp external influences. Although PCM includes attention to such events, it is more emphasized in some other methods, such as Capacity Works, which sees results-based monitoring as a “navigation tool”, where it is needed to periodically test the initial hypotheses, as well as observe the ambient conditions, and if important changes are detected, the intervention may be adjusted (GIZ, 2015: 27).

Awareness gets even richer when SCRUM is brought into the picture. It brings in an interesting point of view –  instead of focusing only on what has been done, focus is primarily on the work that is still to be done and results to be achieved, recognizing that in complex environments, what will happen is unknown and that only what has happened may be used for forward-looking decision-making (Schwaber and Sutherland, 2016: 14). So, the intervention is to be monitored in its entirety.

The longer the implementation of an intervention lasts, the higher the probability that things will change and that this change will require adjustments in the intervention to achieve desired impact. Also, it is beneficial to, time to time, consider if there are changes in the environment, what are influences of the change on the intervention and how the intervention needs to be adjusted to new situation. Although outcome harvesting (Wilson-Grau and Britt, 2013) is primarily linked to evaluation, it seems that such perspective may be useful also in monitoring, especially in case of larger scale intervention with longer implementation period. This approach further enriches the awareness with attention to changes in the environment and links of the identified changes to the intervention, helping also to establish cause and effect relations.

Also, modern world is more and more connected and achieving changes through designed interventions is getting more and more demanding. Convergence is visible in many areas. Methods applied should not be left out of processes of change, neither should methods that function be left out from design and implementation of development interventions. It seems that it may be good to combine and adjust methods, taking from each method what is needed for successful managing of development processes. This gives broader perspective, enabling us to be aware of many important aspects of the environment and the intervention, and of their interactions, giving us a chance to timely adjust what needs to be adjusted and to navigate through these uncharted waters, since every intervention is a new experience. This should also increase chances of achieving the desired changes in modern societies, through well-designed and carefully navigated interventions, helping us to avoid unpleasant surprises on that path, by being constantly aware of our actions and our environment.


European Commission. 2004. Project Cycle Management Guidelines. EuropeAid Cooperation Office, Brussels.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. 2016. The Scrum GuideTM, The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game.

GIZ GmbH. 2015. Cooperation Management for Practitioners, Managing Social Change with Capacity WORKS. Gabler Verlag, Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

Ricardo Wilson-Grau, Heather Britt. Outcome Harvesting. May 2012 (Revised November 2013). Ford Foundation.

Cooper, Jeff. 1989. Principles of Personal Defense. Paladin Press.

Convergence in social processes: it is a challenge, is it a solution?

Development of society brings new, more and more complex, challenges. It seems that this reached the point where solutions that enabled breakthroughs in economy, technology and social development in the past now seem to be obstacles. Fragmentation, more than any. Namely, specialization in performing certain functions in society had an important impact on development of society. E.g. specialization in production operations was a breakthrough in development of industry. Observed more broadly, specialization in different areas of life used to bring better results. Establishing entities in charge of teaching, regulating, researching, and producing contributed to improvement of quality of life of individuals and to development of the society. They focused, more and more over time, on their tasks, thus building specialized capacity but also increasing the distance from other social entities and processes. E.g. universities teach, factories produce, and so on. They became very good at what they are doing. However, with time, it seems the focus shifted from the purpose and initial function of certain entity to the existence of the entity itself. So, nowadays, we often hear opinions that the problem is „silo“, i.e. each stakeholder is performing their specific tasks, fulfilling their specific function in social life as they see it, while interactions and consequentially levels of understanding problems and cooperation in the society becomes lower than needed for new breakthroughs. Is this good for future steps in social development? Or it is necessary to bring closer stakeholders that currently do their work mostly separately?

Convergence is already happening in different areas. E.g. in media, where division between printed and electronic ones, and then between electronic audio and visual ones, was clearly defined, while now we have different contents joined in online channels, so we can read, listen and watch the content from the same communication channel. Not only that, but technology also enabled consumers to become producers of content, so now we have not only contents prepared by professional journalists, but also by citizens that take an active role in reporting on social events. Is this a pattern that will spread through other areas of society? It is hard to say to which extent this will go, but it is already happening in different areas of social development. Universities are making endeavors to get closer to industries, adjusting curricula and intensifying research activities to meet demands of changing industries. Enterprises are investing more and more in research and development, participating more intensively in learning processes conducted by educational institutions. State institutions are making efforts to improve approaches and interventions enabling development of economy and increase level of quality of life.

If this social convergence, based on focusing on results rather than on existence and characteristics of different entities in society, is already recognized as something desirable and useful and if it is happening already, is this a subject to think about at all? The thing is, even in developed societies, i.e. in developed states, these processes are still facing many challenges, such as hesitation of different stakeholders to cooperate, being unable to see long term benefits and even necessity of such cooperation, trying to keep their independence and identity rather than bringing their structures closer to other stakeholders and thus involving more strongly in social development in different areas. In less developed countries, it is, of course, much worse, in regard to networking and cooperation, where risks are often on top of the list of decision making criteria, where low level of trust is preventing cooperation, and lack of resources is an obstacle for initiatives that are agreed on.

Also, there are numerous challenges in uniting social forces to enable next steps in social development. Some structures, functions and processes emerge. However, the old ones are quite resilient, seeing these changes not as development, but as jeopardy for their existence. But it is not about their existence. They can, of course, exist in future, but with changes and adjustments required by new development challenges. After all, they have already changed and evolved, no one is the same as some years ago. Therefore, strengthening trust, networking and cooperation seem to be the right way to join forces of social stakeholders from different areas, such as technology, education, industry and regulatory institutions, to enable the next step in social development. It brings the focus back on results and effects, not on existence and benefits of individual stakeholders. In fact, in the long run, this seems to be the best for the individual interests, too, because developed countries, where quality of life is high, achieved that to a great extent thanks to cooperation processes that are still recognized as a priority for further development. This approach enables joining resources and better prioritization on the level of society. Bringing together universities and companies, government and citizens, simply gives better results in social development. After all, societies came into existence on the ground that every individual can achieve much higher quality of life in comparison to existing in isolation. Specialization, as we mostly know it, seems to have served the purpose. It created capable entities that are good in performing specific tasks. Now they have to join forces and converge processes to enable further development in different areas of social life. With everyone doing what they do best, working more and more closely with different stakeholders in society, changing and adapting over time to new conditions and development requirements. That is what society is all about, isn’t it?

How strong innovation systems affect strategic and operational planning

Modern society is characterized by rapid changes in different areas of life. Different stakeholders are investing efforts to manage processes of changes, to achieve development and benefits for the individual stakeholders and consequentially for the society. There are also efforts to harmonize and coordinate activities of different stakeholders to achieve the best results on the level of society. However, it is not easy. Therefore, plans are being prepared and implemented, with monitoring and evaluation, lessons learned and proposed adjustments. This points out that strategies and their implementation is considered important, taking into account that preparation of a strategy, as a specific plan, requires significant resources and that strategies are often prepared in various areas. At the same time, development requires ever new solutions and innovations are more and more often considered one of key, if not the most important, factors in development. This brings to questions about relations between strategies and innovations, how to plan interventions that foster innovations and what are specific aspects of such plans and their implementation.

The word strategy comes from military area and includes high-level goals and plans to achieve these goals, both resulting from strategic planning processes, while tactics is focused on engaging resources to achieve these goals on operational level. Innovation system, innovations ecosystem or national innovation system, whatever term is used and whatever level is observed, is a concept focusing on interactions among companies, education and research institutions/organizations and other stakeholders in introducing innovations.

In conditions of dynamic changes and more and more complex interactions in society, defining strategic goals is an extremely difficult task, since it focuses resources on certain areas thus bringing also risk of missing opportunities for achievements in other areas, so that it may or may not bring desired effects. There are different approaches applied in preparation of strategic plans, that include different analyses in introductory phases, different levels of participation of various stakeholders, and different structure of strategic documents. One of key differences is in the structure of strategic documents, i.e. how deep in details it goes in defining how strategic goals will be achieved. Some strategic documents give strategic goals and broad, but still precisely enough defined, directions, while other develop detailed operational plan, with interventions, resources, allocation of responsibilities and other details, including monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Both, strategic goals and broad directions and operational details are needed for achieving the change. So, why is the structure of documents different?

Recently, I have participated in the study visit to Germany, Berlin area, where we had an opportunity to get acquainted with SME support mechanisms, in different areas. My impression was that state-level institutions define strategic goals and directions towards them, which are ambitiously and precisely defined (e.g. emphasizing importance of innovation networks or ), but operational planning, i.e. developing interventions that will ensure reaching these goals is left to other stakeholders, such as enterprises, educational and research institutions. Even programs that initiate movement towards desired goals, financially supported and monitored by the government, are administered by transparently selected and contracted private agencies. Documents on level of federal states contain more details (e.g.üre_A4_Gesamtstrategie_web.pdf ), but still do not go into all details, such as identification of responsible stakeholders for implementation, financial values and sources of funding. So, higher levels of authorities define what to do, and other stakeholders provide ideas how to do it. On the other hand, strategic documents in BiH often contain detailed operational part, as defined by methodologies such as Standardized Methodology for Strategic Planning and Managing SME Development. Methodologies also suggest that strategic planning process should be followed by establishing structures and procedures for implementation. So, the strategic document not only defines what to achieve, but also how to do it.

What is the reason for this difference? Like in the military, commanders who have well-trained and equipped units have the luxury, so to speak, to define task and rely on lower levels of command for tactical application in the field (an approach well-known for a long time, applied by, for instance, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder). So, one of the reasons may be in availability of capacities and interactions. Namely, Germany has well-developed innovation system, with strong individual capacities of stakeholders and with developed interactions, both of which they are further developing. So, government can count on the innovation system to create solutions to reach defined strategic goals. They also have financial resources to support development processes identified as priorities. On the other hand, less developed countries do not have so well-developed innovation systems, neither from the point of view of individual capacities of stakeholders, that are often lacking resources, nor from the point of view of interactions. Therefore, stakeholders who develop strategic plan, in order to increase probability that it will be implemented and thus create desired change in reality, define all details they can, with precise descriptions and allocation of tasks and responsibilities. It is understandable, since it is less likely that concepts will come from stakeholders that still lack resources and from the environment with underdeveloped interactions. This approach may be necessary steppingstone in development of underdeveloped countries and their approach to innovations, since a number of interventions in strategies is focused exactly on developing capacities and interactions, thus creating conditions to engage wider circles of stakeholders in developing solutions for achieving strategic goals. This way, less developed countries are creating conditions for applying similar approach to the one currently applied by developed countries, thus enabling creative potentials of many to contribute to future development processes in economy and in social development in general.