Designing a strategy process for Oxfam

By Martin Gilbraith

Oxfam, a confederation of 17 organisations engaged in over 90 countries, is one of the world’s best-known international NGOs. It is now going through an organisational change process: a “One Country Strategy (OCS)” to consolidate the work of all affiliates in each country in a step toward eventual in-country merger.

In September 2014, Oxfam asked me to help design and facilitate the OCS process in Lebanon, which has five national affiliates and a Middle East regional gender hub. It also includes Oxfam GB’s emergency response to the Syria crisis launched in 2013. With more than a million Syrian refugees living among a pre-crisis population of around four million, the UK member’s response was no longer adequate. 

The challenge for the facilitator was two-fold. First, guiding “technical visioning” of Oxfam’s added value and role in Lebanon and organisational change to support implementation. Second, using a systematic, inclusive and participatory approach to strategic and operational planning and collaborative working.

In November, we held consultation and process design meetings with large and small groups of staff of Oxfam affiliates in Beirut and two field offices. An OCS “Orientation day” was held for a cross-section of around 45 staff. A project steering committee of six to eight staff was created.

In December, we held an OCS Launch Week. The four-day event kicked off with a “Consultation Day”. It began with a morning session for key staff and external stakeholders. The afternoon featured a World Cafe, during which 150 staff of Oxfam affiliates in Lebanon focused on three questions linked to Vision, Contradictions and Strategies. We drew on the ideas harvested from this session in the next three days, which involved extended and adapted ToP Consensus Workshops for a cross-section of 45 staff.

During my third trip to Beirut in January, we switched the focus to facilitation support. I worked with key stakeholders in three programme areas to apply the new strategic framework to tailored planning implementation. I also conducted ToP Group Facilitation Methods training for 30 staff and partners from across the work teams and affiliates.

Although an OCS framework could have been developed without such intensive engagement, the process generated clarity, confidence and commitment that are central and critical factors in achieving such an ambitious goal.

Martin Gilbraith, a certified professional facilitator, is president of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International. His longer blog post on this subject can be found at  http://martingilbraith.com/2016/03/15/facilitating-change-in-complexity-the-oxfam-lebanon-one-country-strategy-process/

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