Disrupting Mission Agencies

On Sunday, Steve Schirmer pointed out a new blog post, “Mission is ripe for disruption.”


In the post, the author says:

Most NZ mission agencies were established to support a particular model of mission that began early last century… some of the ways that agencies are structured and the systems and processes involved haven’t changed for a long time. The result of this is that it is difficult for them to move with the speed and flexibility that the current pace of change requires.

After reading the article, I told Steve I wished she had gone into more detail about what kinds of changes might be made. What might a “disrupted” agency be like?
What is disruption like, to begin with?
I find the definition of disruption interesting, as a start: a “disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity or process.”
By this definition, we cannot “disrupt ourselves” (without stirring up problems)–the problems we face are the disruption.
Here’s a case example:


and here’s another:
https://twitter.com/MaxCRoser/status/764116472075550720
In the Twitter conversation that ensued between Steve Schirmer, Eddie Arthur, Christina and some others, the disruption facing agencies in some countries (not necessarily in others) are primarily financial ones.


The response to disruption can either be to fight it, to ignore it and maintain the status quo, or to innovatively change in response to it. Nearly every writer on the subject of disruption and innovation will articulate that “ignoring disruption” by burying one’s head in the sand is largely to see one’s own demise.
Some people try to fight disruption by re-innovating around their core business. Bookstores have been doing this:


Fighting to maintain an old business model that has been disrupted is a serious challenge. The other response is to change the business model: to maintain the purpose but accomplish it in a different way. This is dangerous too.
What sorts of models might be used in response to this disruption is a conversation that has been happening for some time. Many people have been discussing it. One of the things I might do, with the help of others, is to compile some kind of index of articles written on the subject. Some sort of “classification” of new mission models – or some kind of collection of case studies or ideas – might be helpful.
This is particularly true because there are (at least) two big challenges with addressing the subject.
One: missions in some countries do not face this problem, and missions in other countries do. What works in one place may not work in another, but we are tempted to build “globally perfect solutions”–“everyone should do it this way.” (A fork of this challenge: some multinational agencies face challenges where a model that works in one place does not work in another, and vice-versa).
Two: we have to be careful to keep the whole subject in view when considering how to navigate from one financial model to another. Donors are more than ATM machines. They provide more than just cash. If we transition to a non-donor model, we have to be careful not to lose the non-cash benefits.
To continue this conversation, if you write a blog post, you might mention it in the comments below, or join in on Twitter. I suppose we need a hashtag.


1 COMMENT

  1. One of my favorite examples of disruptive thinking in a mission agency situation was when a leader in my denomination’s mission agency asked her recruiting staff, “Do some figuring and tell me what is the maximum number of candidates we could place in a year.”
    They ran the numbers and figured capacities and with a little bit of pride reported back to her, “We think we could successfully process up to 70 candidates per year.”
    “70?,” she replied. “I want us to figure out how we can make that 700!”

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