Using research to help create the future

This week the International Association of Missionary Aviation has its annual meeting in Idaho.  GMI board member Jon Lewis is the plenary speaker.

Five years ago, GMI played a significant role in IAMA’s annual meeting, as we presented the results of a multi-year research project looking at the present and future of mission aviation.  The idea behind the FlightPlan project was that global mission was trending away from an emphasis on overcoming physical barriers and moving toward an emphasis on overcoming political, cultural and religious barriers.  In such a world, what might be the appropriate – or potential – roles for the people and tools of the mission aviation community?

A cornerstone of GMI’s 184-page report was a set of seven prospective “models” for ministry.  These models emerged from an analysis of conditions and needs in mission and in general aviation – but also by looking at innovative enterprises in sectors that are “near neighbors” to mission aviation:

  • Organizations on the fringes of the mission aviation sector, such as Wings of Hope, a non-sectarian group that was later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Commercial entities that complement or parallel mission aviation, such as air taxi service and fractional jet ownership.
  • Organizations in the supply chain of mission aviation, such as aviator training schools and small-aircraft developers like Quest Aircraft.
  • Organizations that deal in similar activities to those of mission aviation, such as the global logistics industry and the UN’s World Food Programme.
  • Organizations that could be viewed as competitors to mission aviation, such as the Aga Khan Development Network, which sponsors community air service in the spiritual “Tension Belt” of Africa.

This near-neighbor approach is a systematic, intentional way of developing viable new models for business or ministry.  We didn’t think this up on our own; we borrowed the concept from Kim and Mauborgne, the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy (who are said to have built on ideas from Clayton Christensen and others).  They say:

The process of discovering and creating blue oceans [new models and markets] is not about predicting or preempting industry trends.  Nor is it a trial-and-error process of implementing wild new business ideas that happen to come across managers’ minds or intuition.  Rather, managers are engaged in a structured process of reordering market realities in a fundamentally new way.  (pp. 79-80)

That quote captures the kernel of using research in strategic planning.  Are you engaged in that process?

For the FlightPlan project, we used the process to identify seven models that organizations could use to challenge their strategic thinking and focus their strategic planning.  These included:

The Agile Provider: In a world where change is constant, this provider (or network) is ready for anything – broad and acute needs, short- and long-term deployment, people, skills and/or cargo. The Agile Provider has the resources, processes, flexibility and drive to deliver many resources in many places, on many scales, for many purposes – with the ultimate purpose of representing Christ to the world.

The Nation Developer: This knowledgeable organization assists in the development of transportation and communications infrastructure in nations that have a combination of spiritual needs and capacity-development needs, with focus on nations that have not been open to traditional forms of Christian witness.

The Field Opener: Because places remain where Christian workers – and thus the gospel – face physical barriers that prevent or delay access to God’s word and the Church, this provider (or network of providers) efficiently develops air access in remote areas, paving the way (sometimes literally) for others who are good spiritual and financial stewards of the access provided.

The Tribal Advocate: As tribal peoples direct the development and application of technologies to meet their current and future needs, knowledgeable Christian individuals and groups assist and advocate for them, honoring their decisions and partnering with them in carrying out their priorities and achieving their goals.

The Microaviator: A missionary, church or national church planter who uses one’s own plane as a personal vehicle to get from place to place quickly and safely, or who hires an air taxi service to do so. Microaviators typically use very small planes to do their work. They consider themselves missionaries first, aviators second. Microaviators may also include churches that charter business aircraft to transport short-term teams.

The Business Creator: An enterprise that uses business-as-mission strategies to establish aviation-related commerce, jobs and influence in cities and villages in less-reached areas. Independently, or in partnership with nationals, the Business Creator improves livelihoods for believers and unbelievers, builds goodwill, sets a positive example through faith and lifestyle, and creates natural evangelism opportunities.

The Resource Broker: This provider obtains, enhances and deploys valuable time and technology resources for aviation as they become available. The Resource Broker skillfully identifies, evaluates and capitalizes on resources that may be donated, loaned, salvaged, purchased at auction, etc. This low-cost, high-value approach enables the deployment of resources at an affordable cost for end users. Known for good stewardship and the ability to utilize resources that do not easily fit into traditional suppliers’ systems, the Resource Broker monitors aviation needs and opportunities to determine the best way to deploy resources.

Click here learn more about the FlightPlan research project and to download an executive summary of the research.

There are many ways to do futures planning and scenario research.  A good link to many resources for ministries is Jay Gary’s Christian Futures Network.

I know of at least two mission organizations that have done their own futures research with a high level of skill and intentionality.  One is Mission Aviation Fellowship, whose former COO David Bochman did such a project as part of his doctoral dissertation.  Another is Pioneers, though neither project has been published, to our knowledge.

What about you?  If your agency is interested in researching possible and preferable futures for your organization, let us know – GMI Research Services will be glad to help.

New research: Perceptions about mission internships

This post teases GMI’s upcoming survey report on perceptions of mission internships among current and future missionaries.

UK-based mission researcher and Redcliffe College principal Rob Hay told me (years ago) that his research among future missionaries in Europe showed that many intended to serve long term, but few were willing to make a career-length commitment to an individual agency.

So, GMI thought that mission internships (6 months to 3 years) would make a good survey topic for its North American panels of long-term cross-cultural field missionaries and people considering long-term cross-cultural field service.

This post deals with an open-ended question about perceptions.  More than 300 field missionaries and more than 300 people considering long-term cross-cultural service were asked:

When you think of cross-cultural field internships, what are a few of the first words that come to mind?

Here are word clouds reflecting the frequency of the top 100 response terms.

Prospective Cross-Cultural Missionaries:

Current Cross-Cultural Missionaries: 

What do you notice about these two word clouds?  Here are a few things I noticed:

  • For future missionaries, internships appear to be a learning experience that comes with a healthy dose of work.  For current field missionaries, internships appear to be a work experience that comes with a healthy dose of learning.
  • Future missionaries see internships as a spiritual experience. God was prospective interns’ fourth-most-frequently used term.  Also, Jesus, prayer and faith appear among frequently-used terms.  This group is eager to see God and to be a part of God’s work in the world.
  • By contrast, current field staff view internships as a ministry experience, something related to work and profession.  You can see Godin the word cloud, but on a much smaller scale, and almost no other spiritual terms.  Hopefully, this isn’t reflective of the spirituality of field missionaries!  Rather, it shows that they view internships through the lens of work activity.
  • Work dominates the current field missionary cloud.  They likely view internships not only as a lot of work for the intern, but also as a lot of work for resident missionaries.  Interns require a good deal of supervision and mentoring, which takes time.  There are immediate benefits in terms of enthusiastic service and future benefits in terms of long-term recruiting potential, but obtaining those rewards has a cost: work.
  • Both groups see experience as a key descriptor of mission internships.  But in what sense is the word used?  Is it about having a valuable experience (to be reflected upon) or is it about gaining experience (to be applied in the future)?  For current missionaries, the perspective is forward-looking, with future, preparation and potential appearing.  For prospects, there is a bit more balance.  While long-term and training are prominent, so is rewarding – suggesting intrinsic value, not just preparatory value.
  • Both groups see internships as an opportunity and are generally positive about them.  Good and great appear in moderate-to-large type in both clouds.  Current field workers also used the terms beneficial, excellent, positive and effective.
  • Both groups also are well aware that mission service of any length is challenging.
  • Time is a key element in internships.  In both clouds, the words time, term, long and short appear.
  • Financial considerations are an issue for prospective missionaries.  Support and fundraising aren’t the most prominent terms, but they are a real challenge/barrier for some prospects.  Those terms don’t show up on field missionaries’ radar as a key element of internships – they may assume that people considering long-term service will certainly be able to raise funding for a shorter-term opportunity (with those dollars easier to raise because they do not require a long-term commitment from donors).

What do you see in these clouds?  What are you concerned that you can’t see?

New research: Field staff estimate that 1 in 3 interns convert to long-term missions

In 2004 I attended The Mission Exchange/CrossGlobal Link (then EFMA/IFMA) Personnel Conference.  One of the breakout sessions dealt with AIM’s TIMO program, one of the longest-running mission internship programs.

There was a bombshell moment when the presenter cited statistics about how many of the interns were still on the field. (I can’t recall exactly, but the numbers were staggering — something along the lines of 90 percent still serving, two-thirds of those with AIM.)  Mobilization directors’ jaws were dropping across the room, and you could sense that any agency there that didn’t have an internship program would soon be considering one.

Given that prospective cross-cultural workers today are less likely than those in previous generations to commit to a lifetime of service with a particular agency or among a particular people, and internships seem to make sense — an on-field experience that allows future workers to understand what it takes to live and work “out there,” and a low-risk opportunity for agencies to train and assess the fitness of candidates.

But creating an internship program requires time and money – plus substantial cooperation from long-term field staff, who will have to oversee the interns. Is it worth the effort?

In November and December 2011, we put this question — actually, several questions — to the GMI Research Panels — large groups of current and future cross-cultural field missionaries ready to give their opinion on mission-related issues.  We asked about perceptions of field internships (defined as a cross-cultural field experience lasting from six months to three years); satisfaction with internship programs, the likelihood of prospective missionaries to do an internship, and estimated conversion of interns to long-term field staff.

We heard from more than 300 cross-cultural missionaries (from more than 18 agencies) and from more than 300 people who are considering long-term cross-cultural service.  The following charts show some of the topline statistics:

A third of prospective missionaries said they are somewhat or very likely to do a mission internship. As you might expect, interest increases with one’s commitment to entering long-term cross-cultural service. More than half of those who intend to serve long term said that they are somewhat or very likely to do an internship in preparation.

Three quarters of the field missionaries surveyed had experience with interns. Of those, 6 in 10 agreed or strongly agreed that they are satisfied with their agency’s internship program, while acknowledging in open-ended comments that internships involve a lot of work for field staff.

They also estimate that 45 percent of interns stay active in full-time field service after their internship, with a third continuing to serve with the agency for which they interned.

How does these perceptions compare with your experience?  Are field internships worth the effort?

In the next post, we’ll explore current and future missionaries’ open-ended comments about mission internships.

Keep your eye on the GMI store for the detailed report, which will include more information about the key elements that lead to satisfaction with internships, as well as descriptions of three types of interns based on their motivation for service.

Is Research Biblical?

Link

Welcome to the GMI research blog!

As Christ’s people people deliver the good news of Christ throughout the world, they can benefit from feedback to understand how the message is being understood and applied in various contexts.

Research is also useful for understanding ministry environments, for listening to constituents, for gauging progress, and for testing ideas.

We intend to use this blog to highlight results from our own research, to point people toward others’ research, and to discuss research methods, tools and resources.

Is research biblical?  Sometimes people might wonder, seeing where “knowledge makes arrogant” (1 Corinthians 8:1) and that David was punished for numbering his fighting men (2 Samuel 24).  When reliance on information is substituted for reliance on God, bad things happen.

However, those reliant on the Spirit can use research wisely, for it is commended…

  • by example (Nehemiah uses many forms of gathering information; Luke “investigated everything carefully from the beginning”);
  • by divine command (Numbers 13:1-2, where God commands Moses to send spies out to study the land); and
  • by principle (Psalm 111:2 — “Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them”; Proverbs 27:23 — “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds”).

Perhaps an even stronger commendation of research — which we could define as “purposeful observing and listening” — is that it reflects the nature of God.  We know that God observes and listens.  In fact, the first divinely ordained baby name recorded in Scripture is “God hears”! (Genesis 16:11).

God hears not to gain information, but to demonstrate His concern for those He created and His desire to live in close relationship with them.  As people who are called to love God with all our mind (Matthew 22:37) and to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), how could we do any differently?

A better question than “Is research biblical?” might be “What is the extent or limits to which research should be used in mission?”  In Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, David Hesselgrave identifies research (defined as “scientific observation”) as one of three sources of missiology (along with Revelation and Reflection).  In discussing research as a source, he points to three cautions as outlined by Augustine in On Christian Doctrine:

  1. Nothing in excess
  2. Value of worldly wisdom is small relative to that of the Scriptures
  3. Scriptural wisdom is the “standard of truth” that must be given priority

Some may feel that the application of research has already gone beyond its rightful role in the global work of the Church…but that’s a difficult case to make objectively.  In World Christian Trends, David Barrett and Todd Johnson note:

For global Christianity, a global organization with an annual budget of $270 billion, [the allocation for research activity] is an exceptionally small proportion: 0.03%.

Such a low outlay is short-sighted in the extreme by contemporary standards.  And only a small fraction of this goes to research on global mission.

(The fact that Barrett and Johnson are researchers and have a personal and professional stake in the matter shouldn’t dismiss their point!)

The purpose of this blog isn’t to appeal for more mission research funding (although we love to meet funders with a heart for the issue!), but to shine more light on mission research, to encourage and equip those involved in it, and to learn ourselves through dialogue with our readers.

We’d love to have your input in the conversation!