Nonprofit organisations (and SMEs) are wise to work within a theoretical framework:
- a theory is defined as a system of rules, procedures and assumptions used to produce a result,
- a framework is defined as a structure or frame supporting or containing something, and
- a theoretical framework is therefore a structure or frame supporting or containing a system of rules, procedures and assumptions.
The benefit of working to a theoretical framework is the ability to change, adjust or alter the rules, procedures or assumptions within the structure or frame that supports or contains them. Let me share some examples.
I often refer to a theoretical framework as a ‘knitting pattern’, ‘cake recipe’ or ‘game plan’ – depending on who I’m talking with. The main point I want to convey is that with any of these three examples, I can change or omit particular components – depending on the situation or circumstances:
a) a knitting pattern will usually recommend a certain size of needle, ply of wool, combination of stitches, measurements, etc.
b) a cake recipe will usually recommend specific equipment, specific quantities of specific ingredients at specified temperatures, a certain sequence and procedure for combining the ingredients and a specific cooking and/or cooling time.
c) a game plan will usually recommend a certain number of players with certain characteristics or skills, in certain positions on the field or sequence of moves through the duration of the game.
However, what each of these three examples have in common is the opportunity to vary one or more of their specifications or components to suit a particular or changing environment – knowing that the effect of any such adjustment can be predicted (sometimes measurably) because of the framework. An environment may be affected by a change in:
- desired outcomes,
- availability of people,
- availability of resources,
- level of ability, willingness, interest or enthusiasm, or
- level of control or influence over imposed requirements or deadlines.
The ability and willingness to alter a knitting pattern, cake recipe or game plan is usually dependent upon the level of confidence and competence of the person/s with the authority to make the alteration. And the level of confidence and competence may wane or waver – or increase and mature – depending on the process and/or outcome of the alteration.
This article is an extract from Chapter 6, Riding the Waves of Community Development in Australia since the 1970s (Jean Roberts, 2007)
People working at governance or management levels need to firstly identify, secondly understand/comprehend, and thirdly agree that a particular theoretical framework will under-pin their method and manner of governing or managing.
A further benefit of a theoretical framework is the benefit of choice – again depending on the situation or circumstances. For example, it is possible to adopt a level of flexibility with a rule, procedure or assumption in a favourable situation or circumstance, yet adopt a level of inflexibility where the situation or circumstance is less favourable. This does not equate to inconsistency – provided that the structure or frame is constant.
As indicated in the final section of Chapter 5, the objective of this chapter is to explore concepts (abstract ideas) and theories (a system of rules, procedures and assumptions used to produce a result) that can guide practical action plans to help us understand, respect and capitalise on a variety of waves – which in effect is wave-impact management.
The critical factors in wave-impact management are control and influence:
- when an organisation is able to be pro-active, it is more likely to have both control and influence,
- where an organisation is required or forced to be re-active, it is more likely to have no control, but may have influence over how it responds to an internally or externally generated wave.
Therefore, our emphasis in these examples will be on the level of control and influence.
Chapter 6 in Riding the Waves of Community Development in Australia since the 1970s goes on to introduce the following theoretical frameworks – each of which I use constantly in my work with nonprofits and SMEs:
- Centre of gravity
- Sigmoid curve/life cycle