Here’s How We Expanded Locally-Led Action to Shift the Power (Report)
March 9th, 2022
We're very excited to launch the most detailed study to date on the localization success of Flying Labs and WeRobotics. The study, The Majority of Localization Efforts Have Failed. This One Continues to Shine, (available here) is based on more than five years of direct operational experience, evidence, and learning. It was co-authored by 12 colleagues from Flying Labs and WeRobotics, and independently peer-reviewed. As is well known, the vast majority of localization efforts have failed. The purpose of our report (#StillShining) is not to unpack the reasons for these failures (others already have) but rather to share and celebrate the success of the model that we continue to co-create and co-implement; hoping that our practical approach, learnings, and, yes, failures, will be of value to others who seek to shift the power by expanding locally-led action.
Flying Labs are demand-driven knowledge hubs that combine local expertise and priorities with emerging technologies to drive positive social impact across multiple sectors. They are led by 200+ proximate leaders and hosted by dozens of local organizations in 30+ countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Central America, and the South Pacific. Together, they directly expand the space for locally-led practice. The localization model that powers the Flying Labs Network is referred to as the Inclusive Networks Model.
We decided to use a formal and independent framework to study our model as this offers a more structured, transparent, and objective way to analyze that model. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) 's recently published localization framework offered us an ideal, objective lens to frame and query the detailed evidence base built by implementing the Inclusive Networks Model for 5+ years. The ODI framework analyzes localization through multiple levers, dimensions, and more, as depicted below. Applying this framework enables us to clearly and comprehensively demonstrate the success of the Inclusive Networks Model along with the main tensions that surface through said model.
Via "Are we there yet? Localisation as the journey towards locally led practice," ODI, October 2021
Our study emphasizes that the ultimate value of localization does not stem from the project-level impact alone, such as the effectiveness of an aid or development project. Instead, the ultimate value of localization is to expand locally-led practice. As demonstrated by the Inclusive Networks Model, one way to do this is to shift power with proximate leaders and redefine what it means to be an expert. It enables a far more holistic understanding of agency and power—one that derives first and foremost from local expertise and lived experience rather than foreign technical expertise, money, or special access.
In parallel, we continue to take concrete steps to enable the coordination and support of the Flying Labs Network to become entirely locally-led. Our study outlines how Flying Labs and WeRobotics are working together to deliver this important feature of Inclusive Networks. While effective social good projects are an important and positive component of localization, they are not the endgame of localization.
The endgame of WeRobotics is to enable other like-minded international organizations to massively expand the space for locally-led practice. How? For example, by adopting and adapting the Inclusive Networks Model as they see fit. And by actively reducing our own "Power Footprints" while we partner with proximate leaders to expand the space for locally-led practice. The power footprint is the amount of authority, control, and influence that an organization exerts due to that organization's history and path dependency. Every organization has some level of power. Power is essential to drive change. That said, a significant concentration of power can ultimately undermine the intended change. But the power footprints of international organizations are rarely measured or assessed even though they exacerbate the systemic social injustice that continues to seriously constrain the global social good industry.
Instead, what is measured is the impact of individual social good projects, which are considered successful even when they expand the power footprint of INGOs. As noted in this report, however, the ultimate value of localization is, first and foremost, the expansion of locally-led practice. And while there is value in celebrating the growing support and interest in localization, it is also unclear which of these activities actually shift power. Therefore, we maintain that localization activities that don't reduce the power footprints of INGOs may ultimately be more symbolic than real. This explains why, in addition to the Inclusive Networks Model, we're co-creating a pathway to establish internationally agreed metrics to measure, track, benchmark, and reduce the power footprint of INGOs. International organizations that reduce their power footprints stand to become more effective, relevant, and impactful.
In sum, we are combining the Inclusive Networks Model with the Power Footprint Model to contribute to sustainable systems change. These models are deeply rooted in the demonstrated success of the Flying Labs Network over the past 5+ years, as documented in our study. We invite you to join us at the upcoming Skoll World Forum, where we're hosting an Ecosystem Event on "Localization: Less Talk, More Action" to catalyze more action in this space. We'll be sharing insights from our study, connecting the dots, and catalyzing practical action with a range of changemakers. We also invite you to get in touch to team up on the Inclusive Networks Model and/or the Power Footprint Project.
We are one of many, one node at the edges of this vast network driving change. Let's connect. It's time for action.