Your Challenges Are Unique, Our Solutions Are Unique
All our engagements are bespoke: no two are identical. Your engagement will be fully optimized to your needs, your opportunities, your challenges, and your constraints. If you would like to see some of the solutions we’ve designed for others, the expansion buttons below give you some examples of our work—past, present, and still
For more information about any of them, or if you’re interested in a type of human development project you don’t see here, just ask us! We’re happy to discuss your needs and see if there’s a mutual fit.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporation Gives Back to the Community
A major employer wants to give back through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program to a host community having a large body of under-prepared, under-employed youth. The
We build a public-private, community-wide collaboration strategy to engage the youth struggling now and improve student success and workforce preparation in
We coach the CSR team and community leaders to organize an employee-volunteer brigade to work with students on employability skills, and with teachers on technical skills and training. We design an experiential program known as “Hire ME (Mission Education)” in which students can learn how to thrive in many different types of workplaces, with guidance from teachers and corporate volunteers. The program includes field trips to the client firm and other local businesses to give students exposure to workplaces outside their current experience. Graduates of the program are given preferential treatment in the firm’s hiring.
Our design also includes a strategic communications plan that supports local government and community leaders to reinforce the program through coordinated public relations activities highlighting the program’s successes and encouraging under-prepared adults to attend. The project generates meaningful improvements in the community’s unemployment situation as well as a great deal of goodwill for our client.
Building an Agency
Launching a New Government Organization
A newly created government agency needs to staff itself, hiring and preparing many professionals into mid-level management positions. There are insufficient qualified personnel and no mission specific training programs available in the nation, and the agency’s mandate does not allow it to wait for qualified people to be prepared via slower pathways such as MBA/MPA and specialist graduate programs.
We work with the agency to develop a three-phase launch model. In Phase I, we coach the agency to develop job descriptions and interview protocols, as well as developing policies and procedures via an international-benchmarking-plus-localization design exercise. We also develop with them the onboarding experiences required to get future hires up-to-speed fast.
To begin Phase II, the agency hires a group of prospective trainees for the positions, hiring more than they need to allow for attrition during the training process. After onboarding, we develop these individuals through 90 days of high-intensity, custom-designed “mini” programs, including mini-MBA, mini-MPA, and specialty mini-programs designed for the agency’s mission and key roles. All programs are taught in a blended-learning model, staffed with a collaborative mix of
During Phase II, successful graduates of Phase I training begin six-month, half-time rotations (practica) through various roles at the agency, to help candidates and management identify where each person fits best. Their performance is assessed frequently, with feedback, to help them grow. While undertaking those rotations, they spend the other half of their time continuing to train in Phase II of our self-guided, self-paced curriculum. At this point, the new agency is open for business, though productivity is not yet at maximum.
In Phase III, those who complete the training and practica successfully take permanent positions at the agency. We coach the new hires through the first 12 months of their permanent roles, moving the agency’s productivity closer to international standards and implementing a continuous quality improvement model that will take the agency the rest of the way. Coaching is based on a personal and professional development plan co-developed with the agency and each individual, that includes further education and training appropriate to the agency’s needs and the employee’s personal goals and objectives. At the end of Phase III, we exit; onboarding, quality assurance, and other human development functions we have been performing are filled by agency staff we’ve trained to do so throughout the three phases.
Improving Student Success
Improving PISA Performance at National Scale
A national education ministry is dissatisfied with its performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a major international education benchmark that requires learners to achieve a high level of sophistication in all five learning dimensions to receive high scores. It is seeking a way to dramatically improve its PISA scores as quickly as possible. The ministry allocates one hour per day, four days per week in the national K-12 curriculum for this purpose.
In consultation with the client, we expand the scope of work to address additional national educational priorities that include improving graduates’ preparation for success in the workplace and increasing parental engagement in their children’s schooling. We determine that addressing these problems together creates powerful synergies and costs much less than separate programs.
We design a national, experiential learning curriculum that fills the allocated time with learning experiences that balance all five dimensions of learner success toward the objective of improving PISA performance. Programming is choreographed across grade levels to create a “virtuous spiral” where students re-encounter the same ideas over several years, each time at increasing levels of sophistication and mastery. The experiences culminate in a National Grand Challenge competition, involving every student in every grade every year, that rewards and showcases all the diverse skills, knowledge, and habits that learners develop.
In addition, we design (and collaborate with others who have already designed) voluntary, in-school, after school, and summer curricula supported by parent volunteers, enabling parents to further enrich their children’s learning. All the offerings are hosted on a national digital learning platform operated by the Ministry, enabling students, teachers, administrators, and parents to observe and assess learning success at every step.
The new curriculum is more advanced than
- For teachers, the curriculum prepares and guides them to deliver the learning experiences and to work smoothly and productively with the new parent volunteers.
- For administrators and assessors, the program provides them the oversight and assessment skills and knowledge needed to assure that the new programming will lead to continuous improvement.
- For parents and family members, the curriculum guides them
inhow to support their children’s learning and to engage more successfully with their children’s schools.
The program delivers nearly 1 billion student contact hours each year: student success and PISA performance improve markedly for the same total cost as existing instruction, substantially increasing the return on investment in national education.
Building Inter-Agency Collaboration
National Arts Education
Two Ministries, the Ministry of Arts & Culture (MoAC) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) have agreed on a need to introduce national arts education into K-12 instruction but lack the collaborative experience and infrastructure necessary to carry through their agreement.
We design a collaborative strategy for the ministries to achieve a positive-sum outcome in which each ministry (and their nation) will gain more by working together than either could by working alone.
We work with the MoE, in consultation with specialists in the MoAC along with leading G7 experts, to design an internationally benchmarked, best-of-breed national arts curriculum that is also localized to the nation’s arts and other cultural traditions. We train MoE teacher-trainers, who then train teachers to successfully deliver the new curriculum.
Simultaneously, we engage the
We also work with IT partners to deliver a national, online platform connecting artists and artisans with schools interested in their work and expertise. The same platform allows students to display their work to family, friends, and prospective buyers.
Finally, we facilitate
Moving from Strategy to Results at Scale
Turning Strategic Objectives into Operational Results
Working with a strategic consultancy, a government agency has prepared an impressive list of dozens of strategic initiatives, covering every aspect of its mission. The agency now needs to translate the list into real-world results—quickly, at scale, sustainably, and with no wasted effort or funds.
We see this challenge frequently in agencies of every kind. Typically, a strategic consultancy has delivered a list of initiatives as part of a Master Plan, then exited. The agency lacks the in-house expertise to turn a strategic plan into a set of successful operations.
In these projects, we have three goals:
- Support the agency’s mission by guiding it to prioritize and implement projects based on mission-alignment and results.
- Assure a successful transition from strategy to operations.
- Develop the agency’s capability to perform this work itself going forward.
To those ends, we partner with the agency and coach its people through each step of the strategy-to-ops process:
- With our coaching, they analyze the list, prioritize each initiative, cluster the initiatives into coherent components and then sequence the projects based on potential operating dependencies.
- They organize projects into operating programs based on synergies in management, funding, or timing, looking for situations where managing projects together
improvesefficiency and results as compared to managing them alone.
- Working with us, they develop a roadmap, timeline, and budget to deliver the prioritized, desired results.
- We up-skill and coach personnel (including on-boarding, up-skilling, and coaching targeted new-hires) as needed to complete and sustain the work themselves.
- We coach project staff through the project launches, and coach managers and executives on supervising the projects as they proceed.
- After one complete, successful iteration of the continuous quality improvement strategy we also coach them to develop, we exit.
Women’s Economic Development
Women’s Economic Development Saves Cultural Heritage
A government agency is given
In consultation with the agency, we settle on a strategy of pursuing economic development by cultivating and revitalizing rural, home-based artisanal production by women. We develop a collaborative program among the agency, the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Ministry of Culture (MoC), and several international NGOs that specialize in connecting indigenous artisans to the global cultural economy.
Using the region’s public colleges and universities as logistics hubs (courtesy of the MoE) and the MoC’s list of registered artisans as a starting-point, we train a network of recruiters and facilitators to reach out and engage older artisans. We show these artisans how to build home-based businesses that can sell to global corporate, retail, fashion, and design customers using the NGOs as brokers. We teach the artisans how to manage their new businesses efficiently and how to sustain the levels of quality required by the NGO customers.
The artisans are paid based on fair trade agreements made with the NGOs. They can sell to any or all NGOs, increasing the size and reliability of their
To teach the younger women, and to protect and conserve all the crafts—a major KPI for the MoC—we partner with local artisans (subject matter experts) and G7 crafts experts (including the world’s #1 university textiles program) to develop training curricula and instruct local arts-educators in how to teach those courses to new generations.
After receiving this training, the younger women, too, build international businesses that are conducive to flexible schedules without leaving their homes or children. Additionally, secondary industries spring up to serve the supply chain: pigments for painting, traditional yarns for textiles, glazes for potters, and so on. The result is a vibrant, new, home-based economic sector that strengthens families and communities in some of the nation’s poorest and most rural areas.
Moving a Nation to Unified Emergency Dispatch
A nation’s Civil Defense Agency wants to consolidate different emergency numbers for police, fire, and ambulance into a single, unified emergency call number like the 9-1-1 system in the US. The task involves reconciling three different hardware systems and retraining nearly 20,000 emergency dispatchers (call-center operators) in dozens of locations. It is vital that this system continues to protect and save lives at an extremely high level of reliability during and after the transition. As they move from handling one type of call to handling three types, emergency dispatchers need substantial up-skilling to meet this objective.
As we explore the scope of work with the agency, we note that it has
As with many aspects of public health and safety, one cannot just build custom training for 911 certification: one must work with existing accrediting bodies and certified curricula and training providers. Therefore, we build a collaboration between the agency, ourselves, and the world’s largest provider of national-scale emergency dispatch protocols. That provider develops certified, custom training modules for call center operators from each branch of the agency, preparing them for international accreditation. We also partner the agency with an emergency dispatch hardware firm to handle the systems integrations and to develop a call center that is equipped for persons with disabilities. We contribute our high-performance learning capabilities to the curriculum and instructional design process, enabling the learners to achieve superior pass-rates and enhanced learning.
In partnership with the training provider, we design and implement a program that delivers 200 fully qualified and certified agency trainers who can complete the training and oversee the ongoing, continuous improvement of 20,000 national staff. That training includes provisions enabling the trainers to support the new, all-female and all-disabled call-centers being developed in partnership with the hardware provider. To ensure continuing quality assurance and improvement, we collaborate with the training provider and an international certification body to design a Continuing Professional Education program for every call center operator. To sustain that program, we design and develop a Center of Excellence that is funded by the agency, staffed by certified experts, and quality assured by an international review board. The Center is staffed by the trainers and given responsibility for overseeing and continuously improving the professional training and certification of all national emergency dispatch personnel.
When Students Aren’t Thriving
Uplifting an Under-performing Education System
A nation’s vocational education system needs major expansion and improvement to handle rapid population growth and the nation’s global economic competitiveness. The current system requires improvements in every area including: leadership, curriculum, instruction, student services, facilities, and site operations. The system also needs to move away from an expatriate staff and train its own citizens to lead, manage, and staff the vocational schools and colleges.
Many prior efforts have been made to improve matters. All involved bringing in experts from outside the country. Some succeeded for a while, but all failed shortly after the outside experts withdrew. The system can no longer afford failure: to meet the current challenges, it needs to succeed sustainably, by growing its own capabilities.
We design a three-track model:
- Organizational Redesign. The system upgrades its structure, staffing, policies, procedures, and practices.
- Training. All staff are upskilled to the minimal requirements of their positions—including new requirements generated by the organizational redesign.
- Coaching. Existing and new staff need to be brought to higher levels of productivity within their current roles, and prepared adequately to rise to new, more demanding roles.
Given the history of failure from externally imposed solutions, we insist that all this work be done by the system personnel themselves. Throughout the project, we train and coach the trainers and everyone else—from the system CEO right down to the custodians and gate-guards—on how to perform their work with maximal impact.
We begin with a careful assessment of each individual, mapping their strengths and deficits to the role(s) they play in the redesigned organization. From that assessment, we work with each to co-design a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) that blends project objectives (such as expanding the student population and improving graduation rates) with their personal, career objectives. The PLP coordinates training and coaching resources, designed, built, and staffed by us, that enable each person to make progress fast enough to achieve their own and the project’s objectives. Because this is happening at the same time as the organizational redesign, each person’s PLP is subject to frequent updating, to reflect any changes in the person’s current or anticipated situation.
We also work with the system and campuses to develop and implement a continuous quality improvement strategy based on the principal that every system employee must “own” quality assurance for their roles and responsibilities. To support that work and that principal, we connect all employees to the international communities of practice that oversee quality assurance for their roles.
As part of the transformation, we coach the system to rework its curriculum to improve educational productivity and to prepare students better for the workforce; in the process, we train a new generation of learning designers familiar with international state-of-the-art educational practices. All curricular transformations borrowed from international vocational leaders are adapted to the local context by those personnel, ensuring that they fully understand the nature and purpose of the changes.
Our approach starts more slowly than the usual “transplant a Western model” approach, which can generate nearly instant, apparent results. However, within six months of our start, important results are apparent, and within 18 months the campuses chosen as pilot sites are leading all other campuses in key performance indicators. Most importantly, by ensuring that all system personnel do the work themselves, we are ensuring that they will understand what has been done deeply, so they can sustain, scale, and continuously improve it. We exit at the end of the third year, by which time the campuses and the system leadership are fully able to continue the upskilling efforts using only their own citizens.
Achieving 21st Century OER Curriculum
Transforming Curriculum to Open Educational Resources
A national post-secondary education system wants to increase
Based on work done for a previous client, we design a collaborative, sustainable OER curriculum adoption plan and maintenance model in which expert staff based at different campuses work together to build and regularly update OER for their courses. The model enables each faculty member to custom design his or her own course while sharing the work of keeping the courses and materials updated. The model works for all levels from Kindergarten through post-secondary and professional training.
As part of the collaboration, we design and train specialized staff, including curriculum specialists, instructional designers, academic IT specialists, learning scientists, and information scientists, to staff a Center of Excellence. The Center is the catalyst that coordinates activities among the participants, sustains quality assurance, and serves as the nucleus of expansion (scaling) to the rest of the nation’s campuses.
Central public funding for this effort is unavailable, so we create a business model for the Center in which
Global Collaboration on Wildlife Preservation
Anti-Poaching Technology Ecosystem
A Top 5 global conservation NGO has developed technology to support anti-poaching activities to protect endangered species in a developing nation. The system works very well, substantially reducing poaching damage, but the NGO finds that the benefit is less than expected while costs are higher than expected due to limited adoption of its system by peer organizations. It faces a choice of abandoning the solution, despite its superior performance. or finding another path.
While discussing the scope of work with the client, we realize that
We coach our client and leaders of peer NGOs to form a group of global Top 10 wildlife NGOs that will collaborate in areas of shared mission. The first concrete collaborative project for the group is the management, adoption, and deployment of the client’s anti-poaching technology. We work with them on a community design activity that upgrades the technology to meet the needs of all group members.
The group approach dramatically increases adoption of the technology, both by its own members and through their relationships with other national governments affected by poaching. The sustaining cost to each group member drops to levels that can be funded through existing means.
Within three years, the technology is sustaining itself while supporting anti-poaching activities on four continents for dozens of species beyond its original scope, while its functionality is being extended to biodiversity monitoring activities on land and at sea, around the world.
Risk Management Planning for NGOs
Business Continuity Planning and Preparation for NGOs
A nation’s nonprofits are losing money, jobs, and cultural capital due to natural catastrophes including floods, fires, storms, and earthquakes. Each event costs large sums of money in business-interruption losses and recovery expenditures, destroys irreplaceable cultural treasures, and typically causes multiple organizations to close permanently because of long-term damage. The damage is worse than it needs to be because these mostly small, nonprofit organizations lack risk management and business continuity planning capabilities. A nonprofit service agency in one region of the nation wants to help its clients to prevent losses but lacks the knowledge and expertise to develop effective solutions in-house.
We pair the agency with a large university system in the same country that has sophisticated risk management and business continuity capabilities. Working with us, the two parties collaborate on a simplified risk management planning tool, based on the more-sophisticated tool used by the university’s personnel, that can be adopted successfully by even the smallest nonprofit organization.
We also work with the client on their sustainment strategy, which involves delivering low-cost, customized training on risk management and business continuity through a national scale technology platform. We work with them to develop a successful strategy asking regional governments to fund the cost of participation for the nonprofits and NGOs in their regions.
The project has been in
Revitalizing a Funding Program
A Top 15 global philanthropy launches a venture philanthropy funding program that appears to be extremely successful in generating growth and social returns. Five years into the program, however, the rate of new-venture launch has slowed dramatically, and early investments are showing warning signs of impending failure. The philanthropy wants to understand why the program has stumbled and seeks a plan to return the program to consistent success.
We engage the program staff in a fact-finding exercise to assess what is and is not working. We interview a diverse set of stakeholders and conduct objective analyses of every venture to arrive at an overall assessment.
Our analysis concludes that the ventures have important flaws in organization design, organizational culture, and incentive alignment.
- The client’s personnel are not adequately trained in the special skills and values required to succeed in these new ventures.
- The projects’ staff and stakeholder incentives are misaligned with organizational objectives and need.
- The ventures use organizational models that require distinctive, supportive cultures. Those cultures were not adequately established and have struggled to persist in the face of large influxes of new people as the projects grew rapidly.
- Various other design defects, often coupled with human-development deficits, are putting the ventures at risk.
We develop a series of recommendations for the funding program and its clients to implement in all new ventures, regarding organizational design, incentive alignment best practices, and cultural support and enhancement. For the ventures most urgently at risk, we also develop immediate interventions to address the most serious risks.
We then build a custom curriculum that we deliver through self-paced training, for the client’s staff as well as venture leaders and stakeholders. The curriculum uses interactive simulation to explore the success-factors and risk-factors for the existing ventures, inviting learners to see what happens when various aspects of the projects’ designs are modified.
Within 6 months of implementation, all the struggling ventures reverse
National Challenge-Grant Funding Competition
Institutionalizing an Incentive Competition Grant
Through intensive collaboration with the program staff, we design and deliver a rolling panel incentive competition model.
- Instead of a single grand prize that can be won only once, we divide the grantmaking into sectors chosen to ensure that every major part of the need is addressed.
- For each sector, we develop a request-for-proposal process that reviews, selects, and funds
projectsbased on their potential to achieve national scale.
- Projects develop proposals for scaling their work to meet the observed needs.
- Designs are evaluated by a panel of judges with diverse expertise, including experts on the problem being addressed and experts on designing, building, and scaling successful projects and organizations.
- Projects selected for support are given funds for scaling, a fixed amount of time to achieve a certain
scale,and metrics for judging success.
- At the end of the competition, the projects that have met the success criteria best are awarded substantial grants to fund
- The process proceeds in a rolling fashion: competition begins in a new sector before it finishes in the previous sector. This generates results fast and still gives the program staff opportunities to learn from earlier competitions and apply those learnings in later competitions to improve results—a continuous quality improvement process.
We’ve met successfully hundreds of challenges like these. What challenges would you like us to meet for you?
fiveDlearning works at the global leading-edge of human development philosophy, design, practice, and performance.