Involving the Target Population

Before you try to help someone, go talk to them. This seems obvious but surprisingly, few people actually do it. Much of philanthropy over the decades has involved rich people sitting around and deciding what poor and vulnerable people need and then going out and inflicting it upon them. Even those that do set out to involve the target population (the beneficiaries of your collaboration) often don’t know how to engage them in the first place or don’t know how to actively incorporate their feedback into their approaches.


One of the main insights to come out of the software development community in the last two decades is a change in the way solutions are developed. Instead of the old “Big Bang” or “waterfall approach” where developers work in isolation from users and then reveal their products in hopes that users will adopt them, there has been a push for a much more iterative and agile approach, involving users from the very beginning. Figure 1 graphically depicts the traditional development process and Figure 2 illustrates the agile development process.

Figure 1: Traditional Development Process

Figure 2: Agile Development Approach



Agile design and rollout also provides a structure for:

  • Early wins: The backbone organization can help the the partners focus on quickly deploying high-impact programs that deliver something tangible to the target population, giving leadership and stakeholders a reason to believe that success is possible.
  • Pilots (and avoiding pilotitis): Partnerships need to balance the need for testing showing progress with the cut-and-paste fallacy. The backbone organization helps partners avoid letting perfect becoming the enemy of the good, giving them the tools they need to identify pilot projects and then carefully selecting lessons to be tested at future sites with a focus on what can actually be scaled and what needs additional adaptation.
  • Achieving Scale: An effective backbone organization can ensure that the partnership is optimized and impactful by helping to drive the partnership to achieving scale that matters.


Do you have more questions on how to involve a target population in the design and testing of your ideas? Do you want to learn about what it takes to develop multi-stakeholder partnerships?  Then sign up for our next CollaborateUp Academy April 11-12 in Washington, D.C.! Our Academy is a multi-tiered educational course designed to introduce individuals and teams to core concepts in collaboration, innovation, and facilitation through hands-on practice and experience. Become a Master Collaborator by signing up for our Academy today!

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