What's so innovative about the David project?Each year The Slingshot Fund recognizes the most innovative Jewish organizations in the country. The David Project was selected in 2013-2014, becoming the first Israel advocacy organization to make the cut in Slingshot’s nine years of existence. What’s so innovative about our approach?
Paying attention to the research For many years, the Israel advocacy world flew blindly. It relied almost exclusively on gut reactions as to what worked and didn’t work, and failed to conduct any market research to speak of. Mostly, Israel advocates used arguments that resonated with them rather than their intended audience. “If everyone would just hear this argument, they will side with us,” the thinking went. That didn’t work.
About 12 years ago, the field started to become more sophisticated. For the first time, pro-Israel advocates conducted polls and employed focus groups. In subsequent years, drawing on expertise from Madison Avenue, advocates utilized more sophisticated branding studies, the results of which sparked a paradigm shift among some. In this conception, the challenge was not necessarily to win an argument against Israel’s detractors, but to bring to life the vibrancy and humanity of Israeli society among diverse segments of the American population. It’s not so much that people disagreed with Israeli policy, it’s that they didn’t know its people and culture. The David Project not only took note of the emerging body of research, but fundamentally shifted its strategy.
Paying attention to what works on campus Three years ago, when the David Project first began to change its approach, we asked ourselves: what is already working well in promoting positive feeling about Israel on campus? We spoke to students, campus professionals from various Hillels, and faculty. It became clear to us that the most effective Israel campus groups eschewed the traditional speakers and argument approach to Israel advocacy, and took the time to build relationships with non-Jewish campus peers. They had become network leaders on campus. The strategy became clear: The David Project would help other student groups on campus become network leaders as well. Some of the best “innovation” is not coming up with a new idea, but scaling up what someone else has already done successfully.
Paying attention to our team Innovation happens not when the director has a sudden epiphany, it happens because the organization’s culture values everyone’s contributions. Innovation is less about producing good ideas and more about liberating them. There are great ideas in every institution just waiting to come out. Many organizations, however, stifle what ought to be their most valuable resource—their employees. They create highly politicized work cultures that keep people bottled up. People at the top of the food chain, often the furthest removed from the action, are the only ones permitted to have good ideas. By contrast, innovative organizations create cultures and structures that allow people to brainstorm, share and take risks. We at The David Project pride ourselves in building and sustaining precisely such an environment.
Innovation is less about having “aha” moments and more about paying attention. We at The David Project are always on the lookout.