Understanding the external environment – Sector Research

November 15, 2021
Arjav Chakravarti

A prerequisite for any aspiring changemaker should be an understanding of the environment in which they operate, and how that environment could be modified for the better. Research on a sector is thus invaluable to those who wish to design a targeted intervention. Of course, ground-breaking, primary research which is conducted by academic or research organizations is different from the sector research that a consulting firm such as Svarya would conduct.

Svarya’s clients have included changemakers with interests as diverse as climate philanthropy, partnerships in the field of maternal and child health, legal and regulatory frameworks for Indian social organizations, among others.

By far, the most impactful research engagements have been those which started with a client having a clear idea of 1) decisions that needed to be taken, 2) when those decisions needed to be taken, and 3) how the research would provide inputs to the decision makers.

Decision makers such as senior leadership teams, grant committees, CSR committees or program directors, often wrestle with questions such as the following.

  • Should we enter this particular sector?
  • What should we aim to accomplish, in terms of scale, impact and sustainability?
  • What kind of work should we do?
  • With whom should we partner and how?
  • What resources would it take?
  • How might our work evolve over time? Should we plan for an exit?

What we would say to anyone who is using research to aid decision making.

Focus. There will inevitably be a lot of things that you could do. Do not try to do them all. Instead, keep asking questions that help you identify the areas where you will be the most effective.

Learn, and only then act. You will almost never be the first mover in a sector. Do you know what others have already done? Can you replicate, imitate, and learn before arriving at your manifesto?

Continue learning, even as you act. Successful interventions often start small and then grow as experience is gained. Don’t overestimate your ability to make a significant impact on day one.

Be realistic about your goal. Scale, impact and sustainability are all important but maximizing all three can be well beyond the capability of a single organization. Decide on a combination of the three that you will seek to achieve.

Effectiveness is not only a function of resources. The budget and resources available to you may be limited but need not constrain your ambition. Several organizations have made outsized contributions to a sector through targeted interventions, effective partnerships and the use of technology.

Decisions must match capability. Does your staff have the knowledge and capability to deliver, ask the right questions and partner with others?

How visible do your contributions need to be? This is not a minor detail; it will shape the decisions that you take – what role you play, who you partner with and, where you invest resources.

A large amount of information can come up through sector research. We suggest using the points above to sharpen the questions that you ask as well as how you process the answers. The insights that you then draw from the research will be of great value when deciding on the way forward.

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