Administrative methods and tools

There are significant benefits to using some basic administrative methods and tools. Monitoring & Evaluation might seem really high-level, but even just doing the basics will make a difference:

  • Keeping a spreadsheet tracker for meeting actions will help your growth going forward.
  • Ensure you have all of your documents organised in a folder structure.
Network Impact partnered with the Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) to develop a ‘state of the field’ framing paper about network evaluation and an accompanying network evaluation casebook. This is the tool we used.
They also held an interactive convening for funders to discuss practical questions about designing and funding network assessments.
There are a limited number of donors who are willing to fund a new start up (such as a lab) in its initial phases. And the UN itself is not likely to be a source of funding either. So aspire to be as lean as possible in terms of your costs.

To make an effective case to donors, focus on the significant problems that need solving — and then on the solutions you will bring. They should be problems that are a high priority for the specific funder concerned.

Finances and resources

Sourcing flexible financing

Key Tips

  • Secure flexible funding that will cover your needs for at least the first two years — year one is iterating on your concept, and year two is the opportunity to test it. If you are chasing funding, particularly in year one, you will not be able to properly develop your niche.
  • Seek in-kind support for staff, sponsorship of events, office equipment and supplies, and more.
  • Have patient funders at the beginning that believe in your concept and are willing to share in your risks. Be prepared to go up against donor monitoring and evaluation frameworks that are not necessarily compatible with risk and innovation.
  • Build a diverse pool of funders. This demonstrates your commitment to a multi-stakeholder approach. A single donor could create perceptions that your initiative is an offshoot of their mandate.
Remember: You don’t need large sums in the beginning.


Communicating counts:

Key Tips

  • Stagger your communications: avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information at the beginning.
  • Be mindful of what you’re sharing and the image you’re projecting.
  • Overstating your ambitions – and results – could backfire.
  • Develop and practice your elevator pitch: neatly package who you are, what you do and where you are going.
  • Craft a visually-appealing brand identity: invest in a professional to develop your look and feel.
  • Create core products: a (simple) website, flyer, newsletter and business card.
  • Translate ‘innovation’ in a way that is relevant. Not all stakeholders are going to be fluent in your language.
It’s often not a good idea to start with a website before you know what you are doing, and what you are offering.
  • Show the importance and magnitude of the issue you’re working on.
  • Communicate how you are uniquely positioned to solve this issue (i.e. what’s different about your organization?)
  • When drafting communications, put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What would motivate them to think/act differently? What are the incentives for them to participate in your initiative? These points should be main messages in your communication documents.

User adoption framework:

  • Think about creating a user adoption framework. Start with the things you can’t live without, and then choose what to add.
  • What are the basics – the ‘minimum spec’ to engage an audience and launch to a broader community (e.g. a basic brand, a basic website)?

Monitoring and Evaluation

Try to set up systems of evaluation and measurement as soon as possible. Doing this early-on will save you a headache in the future:

  • Track your milestones and growing pains to tell your story.
  • One simple approach is to note ‘who's showing up’ at meetings, and how often — because if you're not adding value for people, they won't show up. So simple attendance metrics are a very important indicator, if you're trying to build a community.
  • Surveys are also a good way to get really clear feedback.
Pro tip: Start with the health of your network and track what keeps your network alive. Over time you can build additional measurement and evaluation tools that become more sophisticated as you grow.
Pro tip: Aim to react positively to failure – because in reality some of your efforts are likely to fail (at least the first time you try them). Be open to constructive criticism, and try to practice ‘learning through failure’.

Labs in established organisations

It can sometimes be a challenge to create an environment that values a ‘lab’ mindset within an established organisation:

  • Try to find the right wording, so that everyone is comfortable with what they're doing.
  • Include people. Open doors to anyone who wants to participate.
  • Ensure that the leadership are on your side.
  • Create a safe space to innovate/fail.

Scale and growth

It’s important to plan effectively for scaling and growth after initial setup but remember, you don't need to be a huge organization to have an impact.

In this video, Pradeep Kakkattil, Director of Innovation at UNAIDS shares his knowledge and experience running innovation within a large organization.

Download Video Transcript

Getting started in practice

All of these key areas will help you to add momentum to your lab, and then sustain its growth in practice.

#1 Charting the Way Forward

  • Shape your vision and mission by having strong ideas and testing them. Stay flexible because you may miss new opportunities.
  • Define what you’re not. Protect yourself against the assumptions of other people and organizations.
  • Keep mapping your audience: who haven’t you heard from and what do they want?
  • Be agile but move at a pace that fits your capacity.
  • Check your niche builds on what’s happening around you. Avoid duplicating efforts, there is no shortage of work when it comes to the SDGs!
  • Maintain the mantra of ‘iterate, test, iterate’. It’s okay to not have everything figured out.
  • Pursue feedback and learn from others.
Pro tip: When you’re ready, start to build a medium/long-term action strategy. This comes after you’ve actually made a start doing the work that’s important to you. It can be a mistake to start this planning too early – but be mindful that you will have to do this at some point.

#2 Building Multi-Stakeholder Teams

  • Aim for a mix of expertise, experience, backgrounds, generations and networks. A multi-sectoral approach requires a diverse and multi-talented team.
  • Attract forward-thinkers that value risk, creativity and opportunities outside of their comfort zone.
  • Seek out a balance between ‘doers and dreamers.’
  • Identify your relationship builders. They are key to creating a community and staying connected.
  • Choose a team leader who embodies your vision and mission. They must have credibility on the SDGs and be valued for their openness.
  • Build and sustain team spirit with regular check-ins and outings.
  • Have a dedicated go-to admin support person from day one.
Note: Team members do not need to possess all characteristics from the beginning. Team building is an iterative process.

#3 Finding risk-taking champions

  • Identify the people who believe in your initiative and have the political power to give it creditability.
  • Ensure their backgrounds reflect the multi-sectoral nature of the Agenda.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your champion(s) to go the extra mile, especially in the kick-off phase.
  • Make your work accessible and tangible so they can use it to influence their own networks.
  • Use your champions to test ideas and assumptions.
  • Keep your champions engaged and informed.

#4 Dropping a pin: why location matters

  • Be mindful of how your physical location impacts the perception of your initiative. For example, Mayor’s office versus community centre.
  • Select a space that is accessible to your current and future stakeholders.
  • Negotiate hosting arrangements that allow for agility and reduced bureaucracy.
  • Take your initiative on the road. Host events and meetings elsewhere in and around your community.

#5 Proving value

  • Keep records: things as simple as growing email lists and event attendance can demonstrate sustained engagement. Use this to report back to your donors.
  • Share results early on and communicate the progress you’ve made. A mission statement or cohesive brand is worth showcasing.
  • Conduct a baseline survey as early as possible to measure results.
  • Always keep impact as your final goal. Know that everything you do has a place and contributes to your overall objective.
  • Embrace scepticism as interest in your initiative.

Now go to the ‘Practicalities’ section of your Blueprint document and add some notes. As you do, consider these prompts:

Is a basic spreadsheet tracker in place? 

(e.g. a simple spreadsheet or document to track and document key conversations, meetings and ideas)
Is a basic communication plan in place? 

(e.g. being able to explain the initiative clearly and demonstrating how it adds value to others)
Is a basic budget in place? 

(e.g. have you thought about what you can achieve if the ideal budget is not approved)
Have you developed a document to share with others who might be interested in joining your initiative? 
Do you have a diverse team with multi-sector expertise? 
Have you established a small but mighty network of people who support your idea? 

Please consult these links and additional resources to learn more:

We’re always interested in benefitting from the experiences of others. If you have any case studies or other learnings you would like to pass on to us, please send them to SDG Lab Geneva.