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A Unique Approach to Solve Social Problems

Mexico City

Some critical challenges such malnutrition have been a problem since the beginning of humanity. Others, such as waste or pollution, are the result of modern lifestyles and rapid population growth. And then there are problems that are only emerging on the horizon, such as the impact of climate change on human or animal health, of which we yet know very little. Most of the world’s most pressing problems are wicked problems that — because of complex interdependencies — are understood differently by different stakeholder groups.

They also cannot be solved by breaking them down into their components, which means that a potential solution depends on how the problem is framed. Identifying emerging opportunities to address wicked problem spaces was the goal of a joint research effort between the Strategic Research team at The Rockefeller Foundation and Accenture Development Partnerships. The teams looked for gradual or event-triggered changes in those problem spaces that would indicate an opportunity to address a problem differently and in a much more promising way than was previously thought possible.

Scanning is a technique that is commonly used by corporations and governments but is rarely found within the development sector.

While the results that we are publishing here illustrate a moment in time, Scanning is an on-going process at the Foundation that supports all areas of work and particularly aims at identifying new areas of work for the philanthropic sector. Scanning is a technique that is commonly used by corporations and governments but is rarely found within the development sector. It presents an opportunity to not only think strategically about where to intervene but also how to identify critical areas of highest promise amongst many potential options. Scanning also is part of a new set of approaches at The Rockefeller Foundation to diversify where ideas come from and represents — reaching beyond our internal expertise —an outside-in approach to identify future areas of work with high impact potential.

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We will share what we learned substantively in a series of four blog entries over the course of the next two months, looking at key challenges across four topic areas: health, ecosystems, urbanization and livelihoods, which are critical to global development in the 21st century. These findings might be particularly relevant for development practitioners, public and private sector actors and peer foundations. And if you or your organization are using scanning for the identification of intervention opportunities I would be curious to hear from you.

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