This is the story of how discovering human insights can help tackle a ‘wicked problem’ that is strengthening civil society organizations’ (CSO) reputation in Turkey.
Reputation has been seen as an ‘ultimate objective’ rather than an ‘outcome’ of consistent actions, and usually evaluated based on society’s deep-rooted assumptions. Current research on reputation has not generated effective solutions simply because the problem was ill-defined. As such, we needed to discover perspective-shifting insights, which would allow us to redefine the problem and redesign current practices accordingly.
The TÜSEV Story showcases how rethinking and redefining a complex, multi-dimensional, and multi-stakeholder problem can trigger a perspective shift that would realign current practices and generate innovative actions with a new mindset.
How might we redefine CSO reputation through uncovering human insights?
Finding The Essence Of Reputation: A Design Research
TÜSEV, the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey, is a support network of over 100 associations and foundations that share a vision of strengthening the third sector’s legal, fiscal and operations infrastructure in Turkey. Organizations from all sectors care about their reputation; how their reputation is affected is a common factor for their decision-making processes. This is also true for the third sector, whose reputation is relatively low in Turkey.
TÜSEV has pledged to strengthen civil society’s reputation, and they approached us to co-design the innovative actions to achieve this goal. Given the complexity of “reputation,” we proposed first to understand the real insights behind the current climate and redefine the problem. Our literature review showed that previous research on ‘corporate reputation’ formed a standard definition for all sectors of the economy, which takes the concept as a tool of marketing. However, it was obvious to us that the definition was not suitable for the third sector’s benevolent nature. We realized that reputation cannot be merely a device for marketing when it comes to civil society.
Looking at the current research on reputation, a number of questions came into our minds;
– How do key stakeholders define civil society?
– What do they give reference to when they make these definitions?
– How limited is the public’s knowledge about the ways civil society operates?
– Is the negative perception of civil society entrenched, or is it a momentary reaction?
– Do the studies on reputation reflect the difference between ‘image’ and ‘reputation’?
The Need To Redefine Organizational Reputation
Thus, as a next step, we started rethinking organizational reputation commonly defined as “people’s collective opinion regarding an organization.” This definition lacked the perspective of the multi-stakeholder nature of CSO reputation, a more inclusive definition was needed.
Using The Tools Of Design Research To Change The Way We Think
We conducted design research to come up with that inclusive definition, as it is an effective tool to identify the root causes of a problem, and has the potential to unveil different perspectives. Our research consisted of a literature review, meetings with experts, and in-depth interviews with active citizens.
For our research, we focused on the public, being the most influential stakeholder on the current state of civil society’s reputation. Throughout our research, we interviewed 16 active citizens, 4 ‘extreme profiles’ representing the opposite ends of the public spectrum. In addition, we consulted 2 experts in the field to gather their insights on CSO reputation. We documented all our findings under two main hypotheses and came up with 12 insights, deciphering the rationale behind the perception of civil society and the root causes that fundamentally construct reputation. This led TÜSEV to rethink its own role in transforming CSO reputation and design action plans accordingly.
To help TÜSEV draw its roadmap on its way to transforming civil society reputation, we then mapped the tensions that correspond to the insights of our research. We formulated 12 ‘how might we’ questions to allow the third sector to redefine the reputation problem. Each of these questions provided different ways to help fix the problem and innovative actions to be taken that would concern different stakeholders. We shared our insights with the TÜSEV team and conducted an co-ideation session to generate and prioritize actions. All our findings and actions were presented to the Executive Board to refine an action road map.
The story continues…
Taking different stakeholders into account and designing our research in that direction allowed us to look at the issue of organizational reputation from a novel perspective. With the human insights revealed by our research, we realized that organizational reputation needed a new description that would enable us to reach the core of the problem and redesign goals and actions accordingly. Our next step is to expand the scale of the research, incorporate other stakeholders and state actors. Our next chapter would be to implement the action road map that we co-created with the TÜSEV team and scale the impact.
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