Neil Tambe

Husband, Father, Citizen, Professional.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Let's map the social sector's genetic code

In their 1999 paper, "Unbundling the Corporation", John Hagel and Marc Singer described the notion (and I’m generalizing) that all corporations fall into three types: client-facing liaisons, product/service providers, and providers of infrastructure to produce products and services (note that these are my labels, not theirs. Read the article for yourself). I also took a riff on this concept in my July 30 post "Definitions: What archetype of business are you?".
In the business world, there are further specifications of organization models, organization functions, and business models. More than that, there are common routines (read: business processes) which people and machines form to bring life to organization models and business models. For fear of sounding contrived, these are four common components of what I'd call an organization's "DNA". Let me cut through the jargon for a minute before continuing:
These are four examples of the "chromosomes" that organizations have:
Organization Model: There are different ways to organize and structure the relationship between different people in an organization. There are traditional hierarchies (read: bureaucracy) or decentralized ecosystems - think of an auto manufacturer versus Wikipedia.
Organization Function: There are different ways to break down the major types of routines that happen in the company. For example, some organizations have a supply chain function and most all corporations have a finance function. These are the different parts of a traditional organization chart (I don't necessarily agree with this approach to conceiving of organizations, but that's a post for another day).
Business Model: These are different ways organizations generate "returns" on their efforts. In a business, this is the different ways the company generates profits. Newspapers sell advertising and subscriptions. Consumer Packaged Goods companies offer a product. Consultancies provide a service with different types of contracts ranging from hourly billing schemes, to fixed fees, to value-based contracts.
Routine: These are the types of behaviors or practices organizations need to do so that the organization can use its organization model to generate returns using its business model. In businesses, common routines are things like acquiring customers, purchasing raw materials, selling, manufacturing, and the many sub-routines of each category I've already listed.
So I don't lose you, the reader, here's the implication I'd like to explore. We have some idea of what "DNA" looks like for private sector companies (probably because they are simpler to understand and have less variability in “genetic makeup” because they all have to generate profit). We don't have a good enough idea of what DNA looks like in the social sector. This is problematic because it makes it really difficult to talk about, compare, and measure social sector organizations using a common language. As a result, we can't easily compare what organizations are working well and which ones are not. All social sector organizations aren't perfectly unique, the do have commonalities.
At the same time, social sector orgs aren't completely the same, and shouldn't necessarily be standardized writ large. By having a framework for understanding social sector organization's DNA, we'd have a way of embracing organization's differences as well as their similarities. 

Basically, what I think would be useful and interesting would be to define the dimensions which are the important defining features of how a social sector organization operates – the “chromosomes”, if you will – starting with the ones I’ve listed before: Org Models, Org Functions, Business Models, and Routines. There would probably be more, like type of client, issue area, sub issue area, etc. 

Then, you’d profile as many organizations as possible and map out the “DNAs.” Then, you could start to see common processes, approaches, and compare the results of organizations, based on relevant features of their DNA. Then, I’d refine the DNA model to make it better. 

What I’d hope to accomplish, eventually, is use the framework as a basis of better understanding how social sector organizations operate and the advantages, strengths, weaknesses, and skills of organizations with different DNAs. If the dataset was big enough, you could start to find ways to standardize common processes. More importantly, you could determine when different types of social sector organizations were needed in a given market or issue area. 

More than anything, by collecting relevant data, you could open it up (with the appropriate cleansing, of course) and let people do cool stuff with it. In my opinion, it’s really fundamental data which could give us a better structure and language for improving management and performance in the social sector.