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Strategic Insights


Rapid change and uncertainty provide both challenges and opportunities for philanthropy. Our Strategic Insights team identifies, researches, and analyzes emergent trends and opportunities, allowing the Foundation to anticipate and take advantage of dynamism for the good of poor or vulnerable people around the world. This includes understanding and actively harnessing our existing networks while building ties to novel networks that diversify and broaden our idea channels.

The Rockefeller Foundation Strategic Research Team

To do this, we use tools such as crowdsourcing and foresight methods to surface innovative approaches. Our team then conducts further research and analysis on a selected set of “Scan” results, to uncover opportunities for The Rockefeller Foundation to support transformative, catalytic solutions. This creates an evidence base for decision-making based on high-quality, standardized, neutral intelligence and assessments. Findings are then shared throughout the Foundation and externally.

In this section, explore four tools employed by our Strategic Research team.

"Funders are in a unique position to see the various components of systems that can and should be connected when addressing complex social problems."

Claudia Juech, Rockefeller Foundation Associate Vice President, Strategic Insights

Strategic Insights in Action


Horizon Scanning—Launched 2009

Horizon Scanning is a foresight method that allows the Foundation to monitor trends and anticipate change in global regions by capturing the myriad perspectives and worldviews of people across the globe.

One of our most recent Horizon Scanning projects was the Searchlight Network. From 2009 to 2013 The Rockefeller Foundation supported a network of Searchlight grantees, most of which are located in the Global South. The Searchlight network has been at the core of Rockefeller’s efforts in the area of pro-poor foresight, an approach to develop impactful programmatic strategies in complex, rapidly changing contexts with and for the poor.

The most promising opportunities for impact are selected based on a set of predefined criteria and subsequently tested in a rigorous, evidence-based assessment process to decide whether they have the potential to become the cornerstone of one of the Foundation’s programmatic Initiatives.

Overall, the Searchlight funding achieved three goals:

  • it built foresight capacity across the globe
  • demonstrated how future research methods can successfully be used in the development sector
  • contributed to the opportunity identification and risk management activities of philanthropic actors

View the report

Crowdsourcing—Launched 2012

The Strategic Insights team uses crowdsourcing to surface unconventional, underrepresented, and innovative perspectives on global problems. We do this by working with our grantees and partners to build and engage online and off-line networks.

In April 2012, the Strategic Insights team collaborated with the Institute for the Future to launch a “game” called Catalysts for Change. It was one of the first serious games to focus explicitly on generating ideas for improving the lives of poor and vulnerable populations worldwide, as well as being one of the first to engage a set of game guides worldwide in moderating the game play and conversation in four languages simultaneously.

Pulses—loosely curated crowd conversations leveraging various technologies—are another method that we use to engage people within and beyond our existing networks so as to surface insights and intelligence from a diverse set of perspectives. Most recently, we hosted a Twitter chat to “pulse” our networks on the topic of food insecurity in cities within Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Hosting two conversations with our partners at +SocialGood, we were able to discuss this topic with nearly 400 direct contributors whose wealth of stories and ideas reached a broader network of over 1.2 million users.

Scenario Planning—Launched 2012

Scenario planning involves creating narratives about the future. It is a powerful tool for assisting organizations in envisioning how complex problems could evolve and be solved over the long term. The scenario planning process helps to identify unique opportunities, understand important decisions by simulating their broader implications, and illuminate previously unexplored areas of intersection.

We have used scenario planning exercises to anticipate future risks and opportunities that can inform our strategy and support the Foundation’s mission. As one example, we explored the future of technology and its links to international development by developing four very different—yet possible—scenarios. By illustrating different possible futures, we explored the complex forces and dynamics that will either accelerate or inhibit the use of technology to spur growth, opportunity, and resilience in the developing world.

With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, the Bertlesmann Stiftung and Future Challenges hosted the first Future Day event in Berlin. The event focused on debate and preparation to confront the biggest challenges we face as a global community. The talks focused on two megatrends: economic globalization and demographic change.

Opportunities Analysis

The Strategic Insights team manages the processes through which the Foundation identifies new opportunities and conducts evidence-based assessments of those opportunities. The team looks for pressing problems facing poor or vulnerable people where there is evidence of momentum for change—a window of opportunity to advance a new idea, apply new innovations, influence thinking, or intervene within a failing system.

Working with grantee partners, Strategic Insights draws on horizon-scanning, crowdsourcing, and other methodologies to surface dynamic opportunities as they arise. A small number of these opportunities are then analyzed to assist the Foundation in making evidence-based judgments about where and how to invest its resources. The process is designed to reframe problems, tap diverse sources of expertise, and generate insights that inform action by not just the Foundation, but others as well.

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