How do we decide what to do when our donors or internal processes are require something that either those we seek to serve do no want or will potentially cause them harm? Every single civil society organisation faces this dilemma regularly. And as we ‘go digital’ and seek to use ‘tech for good,’ the frequency of this type of dilemma only increases.
At face value it appears quite black and white, do we do X or do we do Y. Make a choice and move on.
And yet it is rarely that simple.
Most donors and organisations have policies which govern how they operate. And most of these policies can be interpreted differently depending on your perspective. Additionally ‘potentially cause them harm’ is highly subjective – both the likelihood (potentially) and the harm (plus its impact).
So what do you do?
Almost always, have a conversation. Ideally within the operating context of the dilemma. Some days the conversations will go well as people listen to each other and decisions will emerge. Other days conversations will go badly as people entrenched themselves, connecting their view with ‘the only truth,’ and view their job security connected with enforcing their view.
Organisational and donor policies and desires can happily work side by side for years; even create immense good. But then clash in a new operating context or with new technology; this should be expected. Policies always have exceptions and intertwined with the potential for harm is often opportunity.
Expect the clash, in fact encourage it, and engage in the discussion. Culture is changed drip by drip by drip.