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Program Strategy: How to Pivot Your Digital Development Project to Scale and Sustain Beyond the “Valley of Death”


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In December 2017, DIAL released Beyond Scale – an interactive eBook that details key questions and challenges that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social enterprises face when scaling and sustaining digital development programs, especially when they approach their four to five-year mark, which some describe as the “valley of death”. The book has seven chapters, which contain key guidance, case studies, tools and templates to support implementers in assessing their digital development programs. To break down the 200+ page report, we will highlight one chapter in our blog every month to provide a little preview of what’s found in each chapter.

Beyond Scale’s Program Strategy chapter attempts to ease and guide practitioners by answering the question: “How might your program strategy around the “valley of death” need to change to enable financial sustainability, and how might this affect your organization?”

There are many reasons to necessitate a revised strategy at the four to five-year mark of your digital development project. This may include a transition of a digital program’s ownership, the end of its initial funding, or an expansion to new service offerings or geographies. Even changes in the regulatory environment, market demand or the competitive landscape may call for fresh approaches to a program’s strategy.

Recognizing a renewed strategy may be necessary as well to align internal and external stakeholders with a digital program’s new vision and direction, this chapter focuses on reviewing and refreshing the vision, goals and strategic plans of digital programs to more effectively address ecosystem change.  It also helps project managers changes in areas such as business models, human capacity and partnerships, within the digital program. Some of the key questions explored in this chapter, through which guidance is offered, include: what are the internal or external changes that will shape your digital program in its next phase and what do these changes mean for your ability to expand? How will the structure of your program and the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders need to change to reach your strategic goals? What impact will these changes have on your program, organization and partners? And what are the constraints and risks you may face as you move ahead, and what are the strategies for mitigating them?

As one example of the challenges that arise when reassessing an organization’s digital program strategy, Dr. Cathy Mawagi, CEO of mHealth Kenya, discusses the issues that arose when identifying risks preparing for change, as the organization transitioned from a donor-based to a commercial-based model.  Check out the video here.  Through this video, we learn about the approaches of Dr. Mawagi and other employees at mHealth Kenya to navigate the organization’s next steps for growth, as they changed the organizational structure and redefined roles for people and entire teams.

For CEOs like Dr. Mawagi, as well as program directors and leaders who are driving the strategic planning process and overseeing all aspects of a digital program’s operations, we learn that good strategic plans are flexible, living documents that teams work to continually update in order to reflect changes in the environment.

View the Program Strategy chapter here: DIAL_BeyondScale_Intro-Strategy

This is just a glimpse into Beyond Scale’s Program Strategy chapter.  In order to learn more about how other implementers of digital development programs may be refreshing their program strategy, as well as see more real-life examples from the field, check out the full-length eBook here.

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