How to ‘hack’ your strategy document to introduce innovation

September 13, 2021

Strategic documents set out the foundations and key priorities for organizations. They provide planning and a long-term vision that can then be dissected into more concrete road maps or action plans. These documents require a lot of effort, but once completed they often end up sitting on a shelf or website, waiting for someone to remember them.      

One reason that these important documents become obsolete almost immediately is because they’re written for a five or even ten-year period, which is at odds with the realities of a dynamic and fast-changing context. It is crucial to be able to adapt to constant changes and to make sure that suggested avenues for solutions are relevant and timely. 

At UNDP Kazakhstan, we decided to experiment with a new approach to organizational strategies and ‘hack’ our own Country Programme Document (CPD), a strategy document that each UNDP country office submits every five years. Our Accelerator Lab team started the hacking process in each of the priority areas identified in the CPD, in order to introduce new ideas for experimentation that are timely, innovative, and impactful. 

Whatever strategic document you have, the goal of introducing an experimentation mindset is to breathe new life into strategies, and make a greater impact, by utilizing novel instruments and approaches. This process is applicable to any organization working to stay relevant and accomplish their strategy and vision in a rapidly changing context. 

Benefits of hacking your strategy

Strategic documents are often based on robust research, the identification of problems and recommendations for solutions. Experts in the fields contribute to developing strategic documents, using official statistical analysis, global benchmarks and recommendations for actions. Yet despite all the available information, problems may continue to persist, strategies may not be fully implemented or may even be neglected. This is because these documents answer the ‘WHAT’ question – through descriptions of current and desired situations – but they do not tell you HOW to implement these recommendations. 

An important part of any strategy is to know how to use the developed analysis and strategies, how to address problems, and how to implement solutions in our complex system. To help answer these questions, innovative and relevant instruments can be introduced through creative exercises which will help generate ideas and consultations within and outside the organization. 

The hacking process

In the UNDP Kazakhstan Accelerator Lab, we asked ourselves the following guiding questions throughout the hacking process to help us find entry points for innovation in our strategic document: 

  • What are the new instruments that could make an impact? 
  • How can we work with a diverse range of partners to address social vulnerabilities? 
  • What existing local solutions can we learn from?
  • How can we leverage existing relationships and make them more mutually beneficial? 
  • What development trends are emerging that need to be accounted for? 

The hacking process can be explained in three steps:

  1. Dissecting the existing strategy document: The first step is to understand what is already there. Give yourself enough (but not too much!) time to approach each priority from your strategy separately. The Accelerator Lab team achieved this by brainstorming as a team on what was missing in each of the priorities in our CPD document, and reaching out to colleagues (topic experts) to get their input and insights. The key here is to initiate a wider dialogue with the entire team so that they feel confident in the hacking process and are ready to contribute bold ideas. 
  2. Connecting with the broader ecosystem: Tapping into the collective intelligence of your organization is excellent, but it is also important to engage external stakeholders. In our case, for each of the strategic priorities, we reached out to activists, NGOs, and startups – people closest to the needs and solutions. These individuals shared their experience and perspectives on relevant issues which allowed us to complement official data sources with community insights. These insights helped us to better understand the context and gave us innovative ideas for experimentation that complimented our strategy. 
  3. Making it participatory and actionable: Next, follow the example of ‘ideas empowerment’ – share the results of the insights gathered and ideas for implementation with members of the community for their feedback on the new solutions. In our case, the highlight of the hacking process was a “Pitch Day” event where our team presented the 12 ideas for experimentation that we had collected. The goal of this event was to spark excitement and fuel participation in this dynamic long-term document and suggest ways for it to be refreshed with actionable ideas. An important element of the “Pitch Day” was having the audience vote for the best ideas. Introducing this small engagement tool brought participants together to share creative additions to the strategy document. 

In summary, the hacking process is an innovative way to identify and add ideas for experimentation in order to achieve more efficient, responsive, and relevant impact. As organizations, we often already have sufficient information. It’s now a matter of tapping into the collective intelligence of our ecosystem to accelerate our progress towards a sustainable future.