Skip to main content
Sustainable Innovation

In conversation with...

In conversation with...
Published: October 5, 2017
Share this article:

Mark Quest and I sat in The Lion.

The Lion is the name of our smallest meeting room here at Impact HQ. We also have meeting rooms called The Sun and The Rule and a Management Information System we call Derek…doesn’t everyone? And when we want to find out about something we set up an ‘In conversation with…’ This is one of the many ways we share expertise across Impact, sometimes 1:1, sometimes in a group, either way it keeps us abreast of any new innovations.

I wanted to talk to Mark (Impact consultant) about a project he recently designed and delivered for a client of ours. It involved the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and whilst the SDGs haven’t reached the boardroom of all organisations, they are being articulated and aligned by many, indeed some are beginning to make sense of the goals and build them into different functions within their organisation, sometimes even spilling over into the L&D function – ‘WHAT’, I hear you gasp!

It’s true.

I’m interested in this area (SDGs and learning) and I’m keen to explore how Impact can embed these goals into our learning solutions and to share this with others… so I interviewed Mark about why, what and how he used the SDGs on his recent programme.

Why did you design the SDGs into this leadership program?

When I design a programme the focus and starting point are the learning outcomes and finding a way to make the process of learning as engaging as possible.

One of the key learning objectives for this client was around understanding ‘stakeholder management’

Having previously engaged with the SDGs on an internal Impact programme, I was aware of the emotive and powerful responses they evoked in people. Talking about poverty, hunger, inequalities, climate change, these are all important issues that people genuinely care about, want to explore and often have a point of view about.

I raised the idea of using the SDGs to bring to life the challenges of ‘stakeholder management’ with my client. This resonated well, their organisation had already identified two of the SDGs (out of the 17) that mattered most and were taking positive and intentional action to address them. A great first step.

From there we co-created  the project, working closely with the sustainability team, L&D function and the senior stakeholders.. Making it relevant for all was important) without it, the project would feel tokenistic and a waste of everyone’s time.

So what did you do to bring the SDGs to life on the programme?

The participants had to develop solutions to address two of the SDGs and present them to senior stakeholders. The best ideas would be taken to the next level with sponsorship and support from the senior stakeholders.

We sent out pre-reading (on their online learning platform) prior to the programme

and just before the project started we used cards and images to help people ask good questions, to be curious and really listen to each other (without judgement). A presentation from the sustainability team also helped to frame the SDGs …

What happened during the SDG session during the programme?

The participants were immediately engaged and took ownership of the project which evoked many emotions from frustration, empathy, anger, fear, trust and Joy.

They worked in small teams to take a deeper dive into the issues, ideas and possibilities for the solutions and were expected to present their solutions to some of the senior stakeholders. The pressure to articulate their views (and at times to agree on views) was challenging.

Having senior internal stakeholders engaged and involved and able to provide feedback on the participants’ solutions was vital, it also provided a neat way for these groups of people to get to know each other.

What key learning can you take away from this?

As a consultant at Impact, it’s my job to bring about powerful, memorable and meaningful learning solutions. The responsibility to think about and create such experiences lies with me and that’s really motivating. As is designing projects that help people to talk about stuff that matters while addressing key learning objectives.

My advice, don’t design a solution because you want to do an SDG related project, do it because it will address your learning outcome in a meaningful, engaging way.

This solution worked on all levels for everyone involved….

It engaged graduates who learnt about how their organisation is addressing global issues, it evoked real emotions and challenged them to deliver solutions to address specific goals and gain buy in from a senior audience

It involved and promoted the role and work of the Sustainability Team, who delivered a session during the programme. This function within some organisations sometimes struggle to influence and engage others, in this situation their involvement was key.

It helped to bridge the gap between the global graduate population  and senior people within the organisation.

So to summarise  -

  • Focus on your key learning outcomes
  • Be open to using powerful vehicles to bring that learning to life, attach it to stuff that matters, make it real
  • Be prepared to facilitate, coach, support and challenge people while they grapple with meaningful, real, complex challenges – real projects evoke real emotion.
  • Provide structure to enable them to achieve their learning objectives
  • Think about how you can engage a wider audience from the organisation.

Thanks to Mark for his insight, if you are interested in learning more about embedding the SDGs into your programme, please get in touch.

Jo Appleby is Head of Partnerships at Impact UK. Mark Quest is a Consultant at Impact UK.