CI Summit Update: Shared Measures v. Evaluation and Continuous Learning

On Tuesday (September 29) at the CI Summit 2015 in Vancouver, Fay Hanleybrown and Mark Cabaj shared a dialogue in the morning plenary about arriving at shared measures in Collective Impact (CI). It was a terrific conversation and they did a really nice job of parsing out the difference between shared measures and evaluation.

Mark Cabaj & Fay Hanleybrown discussing Shared Measures
Mark Cabaj & Fay Hanleybrown discussing Shared Measures

Working with CI it is sometimes easy to confuse shared measures and evaluation. Shared measures are a set of agreed upon indicators that mark a CI initiative’s progress toward attaining its ultimate goal or goals. For example, reduction of homeless by XX% or a decrease in the teen birth rate by XX%. Evaluation, on the other hand, is a range of activities that have the purpose thoughtfully collecting useful data about activities and outcomes related to operationalizing the CI initiative. Evaluation data, therefore, is very useful for informing the continuous system improvement that is needed to help the CI initiative become more effective in attaining its ultimate goal or goals. Shared measures help the CI initiative keep everyone focused and moving toward the same vision and mission while evaluation is a “deeper dive” into the data that is then used to improve efforts and adjust strategies.

This discussion converged nicely with the topic of my own workshop yesterday at the CI Summit on the “Roots to Fruit of Sustainable Community Change” (aka R2F). My workshop formally introduced the R2F model that has been in development in collaboration with my friend and colleague, Ed Saunders (recently retired as the Director of the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa). Ed and I have worked together for 25 years in the field of teen pregnancy prevention in the state of Iowa and in national projects in the United States. The R2F model has been simmering and taking shaping through much of the time in a many conversations, discussions, and work sessions. However, it has been since moving into the world of independent consulting in 2013 that I have been able to give it more focused attention. The R2F model offers a strategy for creating a community “ecology” that supports efforts in addressing challenging social problems and a means of monitoring and measuring the change effort for evaluation and continuous system improvement. Central to the R2F model is the integration of the Collective Impact Five Conditions framework.

In this blog space I will begin to share more about the R2F model, its components, and resources in the next few months. Later this year (or even as late as March, 2016, depending on publication schedules), our first peer reviewed research paper on R2F will appear in a special Collective Impact issue of Community Development, the journal of the Community Development Society.

Many thanks to Paul Born, Liz Weaver, and the rest of the Tamarack crew for their support and encouragement during the development of R2F over these past few years and, now, for the opportunity to share it at this CI Summit.

Today is another full day at the CI Summit. Loads of great plenaries and workshops to come. More later.

Be greater. Do good. Every day.

TWK

Live from the Collective Impact Summit

wpid-wp-1443456047066.jpg
Being welcomed to the land by a Musquem elder

This week I am in Vancouver, BC for the Tamarack Collective Impact Summit. After three such events I continue to be impressed with the events. This year I’m  honored to make a small contribution to  the event. I’ll be leading a workshop on out Roots to Fruit model of sustainable community change, facilitating a panel of leaders of Collective Impact from around the world, facilitating a learning lab, and hosting a dinner conversation on shared leadership. As time and opportunity allows, I’ll post to this blog with updates from the event.

wpid-wp-1443456134746.jpg
Paul Born, president of Tamarack, opens CI Summit and welcomes all.

You can follow the Summit on Twitter at #CISummit.

Be Greater, Do Good. Everyday.

Tom

Beyond the Comfort of What We Think We Know

Has an over-reliance on “best practices” and “evidence-based” practices struck a deathblow to our ability to think creatively and our courage to be experimental?

My mind is still mulling over my experience at the inaugural Collective Impact Summit last October in Toronto. No individual presenter had a greater impact on my thinking in that meeting than Brenda Zimmerman. Dr. Zimmerman, who died tragically on December 16 last year in an automobile accident, was a leading thinker in the application of complexity theory to both for profit and social profit (aka nonprofit) organizations and our understanding of change. She is widely known for her book, Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed, written with Frances Westley and Michael Quinn Patton.

Dr. Zimmerman’s presentation and workshop at the Summit challenged, stirred, and animated my thinking in a number of ways. One that has been most profound has been pushing me to rediscover the value and validity of experimentation. I think of experimentation as the courage to ask “What if we tried…(fill in the blank)?” rather than rotely following the recipes, formulas, and checklists of “best practices” and “evidence-based” approaches.

I know better than most the safety of recipes, formulas, and checklists. The ability to apply or replicate evidence-based solutions to problems is often the surest course to achieving the measurable outcomes demanded by many funders. However, the unintended consequences of fidelity to our recipes, formulas, and checklists can be horrific.

For example, under pressure to meet some funders’ timetables to apply the best evidence-based solution to a complex social problem in our community, we ignore, in our haste, those who have genuine expertise with the problem and whose wisdom we need: those who live the problem every day.

Ignoring these, whom Dr. Zimmerman called “context experts,” can lead us, in turn, to an over-reliance on evidence-based solutions which appear to have demonstrated success in addressing similar complex community problems. As a result, we identify an evidence-based solution that worked for another community, but which does not really work for our community, or even at all. We assume the solution will work because the problem over there looks very similar to the one we are trying to solve right here. We even try to “tweak” the solution with various approved adaptations to make it fit better. In the end, we discover we have simply forced the proverbial “square peg into a round hole.” In our shame, we write-up carefully worded reports for the funder to make the evidence-based solution sound more successful than we know it was and, in some cases, our reports merely add to the myth of that particular evidence-based solution.

However, we are not the only ones who know that the evidence-based solution we selected to do to the community did not really work. Those context experts know it, too. Their secret knowledge of the solution’s poor fit and its failure significantly weakens the likelihood of sustaining the solution in the community. After all, the community might not have wanted or needed our solution in the first place and may be glad to see it now, finally, go away. Sustainability stems from successful solutions owned by the community; and ownership grows out of trust, respect, and meaningful participation of the context experts – which we did not demonstrate from the outset.

Nonetheless, we climb further into the “best practice” and “evidence-based” trap. We are confident the next time we will find the right fit if we just follow the formula a little more carefully.

What if the problem is the formula? What if the process is flawed? What if our assumptions about expertise, best practices, and evidence-based solutions are all wrong? What if we have allowed our blind trust in best practices and evidence-based solutions for complex social problems kill off our human capacity for genuine creativity, thoughtful experimentation, and the ability to simply ask, “What if….?”

I am going to leave you with these questions but I plan to continue this conversation soon. In the meantime, take a moment to complete the poll at the bottom. I would like to know what you think.

Be greater. Do good. Every day.

Tom Klaus

Developing Nonprofit Story Worth Following

The Nonprofit Quarterly daily online newsletter, Newswire, has been covering a story in the state of Maine that bears watching by every nonprofit leader. Governor Paul LePage’s tax and budget plan coming before the state’s Legislature levies taxes on nonprofits and eliminates the charitable gift tax credit, even as it cuts taxes for higher income individuals. However, Governor LePage is not alone. Several other governors and states are pressing for variations on this plan. Maine, however, might be a “bell weather” for things to come, hence it deserves the attention of nonprofits throughout the United States.

Some readers of this blog may know that I also write for the Newswire and this Maine story is one that I and few other NPQ writers have been following closely. My latest article on Governor LePage’s promises that a “flood of money” will come into nonprofits under his plan appeared in the Newswire today, February 23rd. In the first paragraph of my article you will find links to four other articles that have recently appeared in the Newswire highlighting different aspects of this story, including an earlier one that I wrote about the impact on Maine’s nonprofit summer camps, which are a major economic driver for the state.

The NQP Newswire stories are generally quick reads, less than 500 words. However, if you cannot get to them today, please book mark them and come back to them at your earliest convenience.

Be greater. Do good. Every day.

T.W.K.

New Teen Pregnancy Prevention Funding Opportunities Posted

Good Saturday morning!

The U.S. Department of Health Human Services Office of Adolescent Health posted four new teen pregnancy prevention funding opportunities last weekend (January 10) and one just before the holiday break on December 23rd. These are major funding opportunities for organizations that are working in teen pregnancy prevention. Each of the five opportunities has a different focus and funds very different activities. Please be sure to read them carefully. Each also requires a letter of intent to apply for the funding as well as a full application. In addition, each opportunity has a different timeline for receipt of letters of intent and applications.

To learn how to access detailed information on each of the opportunities, click here or on the “Funding Alert” link above. To learn more about how we can help, click here or on the link above to “Evaluation Research.”

Best wishes for a successful application!

Be greater, do good, everyday.

T.W.K.

Upcoming GrantStation Webinar with Tom Klaus

Since you have your brand new 2015 calendar already to go, here’s something to put in it.

Creating Change with Collective Impact – A NEW Webinar from GrantStation.

Collective Impact is a term coined by FSG, a social change consulting group, to describe a cross-sector collaboration that focuses on solving complex social problems by embracing a common agenda. In 2011 “collective impact” was identified as the number two philanthropy buzzword of the year by a writer in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Since then the “buzz” around collective impact has only continued to grow. In this webinar, Tom Klaus will take a closer look at the collective impact phenomenon, tackling some of the most important questions: What is collective impact? How does it differ from other collaborative approaches? Is it merely a new name for collaboration? How does collective impact work? How has collective impact changed since its introduction? How do you decide when a collective impact approach is the best fit for your project and your funder?

This webinar is designed for grantwriters, executive directors, project managers and staff, as well as development staff.

The webinar will be held on Thursday, February 12, 2015. Visit the link above to register or click here.

Date: Thursday, February 12, 2015

Time: 2:00 PM Eastern Time (U.S.), running for 90 minutes

Fee: $89.00 per person, $150.00 per site.

About the Presenter:

Dr. Tom Klaus (PhD in Organizational Leadership) is a nonprofit/social profit consultant who has worked at all levels of nonprofits from direct service, to executive leadership, to heading complex national initiatives. Tom is a “pracademic,” steeped in both the study and practice of nonprofit organizational leadership, collaboration, and community engagement. He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University (Philadelphia) in the School of Leadership and Development, where he is a pioneer in teaching collective impact. Tom is a frequent keynote, plenary, and workshop speaker and trainer. He is also a prolific writer, blogging on community engagement and collective impact on his own site (www.nonprofitgp.com) and Tamarack, a Canadian institute for community engagement, and contributing to the NPQ Newswire.

***********************

I am pleased and honored to be working with GrantStation on this new webinar. GrantStation is an organization dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities. GrantStation.com offers nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies the opportunity to identify potential funding sources for their programs or projects as well as resources to mentor these organizations through the grantseeking process. GrantStation provides access to a searchable database of private grantmakers that accept inquiries and proposals from a variety of organizations; federal deadlines; links to state funding agencies; and a growing database of international grantmakers. In addition, GrantStation publishes two newsletters highlighting upcoming funding opportunities, the weekly GrantStation Insider, which focuses on opportunities for U.S. nonprofit organizations, and the monthly GrantStation International Insider, which focuses on international funding opportunities.

If you are new to GrantStation, please take a few minutes to learn more at grantstation.com. GrantStation is an important resource for nonprofit organizations seeking to create and sustain the greater good in their communities.

I hope you are able to join me and GrantStation for this webinar on February 12, 2015.

Be greater; do good; every day,

T.W.K.

“The Least of These”

My life is haunted. Some of the things that haunt me are the ghosts of stupid things I have done over the course of my life. Many, though, are the spirits of compelling ideas that just will not let go of me. One of those ideas is captured in the phrase “the least of these.” The phrase “the least of these” comes to me from the Christian scriptures, the spiritual text with which I am most familiar, though it refers to an ethos to be found in many cultures and faiths. The ethos is that members of the human race, and the societies they form, have a moral and ethical responsibility to care for “the least of these” in their communities. “The least of these,” in one sense, is a relative term as it can refer to those whose needs are greater than our own. However, it more generally refers to those who have found themselves in great need and difficult, even desperate, circumstances, through no fault of their own. They are often known to us by their status in society: marginalized. The failure to care for these others, in fact, is a failure of our humanity and to the whole of humanity, and some would also believe, to God.

“The least of these” are the reason for my career. It was a calling to serve “the least of these” that led me to ministry within the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) when I was a young man. It was the same call that led me into mental health counseling and then the field of adolescent sexual health. It is the call that today has guided me to focus my work with social sector (non-profit) organizations, including faith communities, in order to help them become the best guardians and providers of “the least of these” that they can be.

This blog often finds me writing about community engagement and Collective Impact. “The least of these” has also been haunting these subjects for me as well. Yet it is with regard to these two topics that my thinking is still forming and for which I hope to receive greater light from others. Therefore, I am just going to put my ideas out here for your consideration and invite you to have a conversation with me.

Why Find a Cure 2
Bumper sticker seen in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, April, 2014

If a social change movement is not about “the least of these,” then it is just a business and social change is just another industry providing greater benefit to those working within the industry than to those whom it is supposed to serve. Earlier this year I was working on an organizational study for a client and in my research came across a compelling article[i] in which the authors made this point with what they called the “health disparities industry.”  The authors cited the literature that defines “industry” as a sector of the economy that manufactures goods or products or provides a service. An industry has an elaborate infrastructure, a specialized set of activities, and stakeholders. Then the authors made the case that the health disparities movement had, in the United States, become an industry that more often used the issue of disparities to sustain itself than to help those who actually experienced the disparities. My own research has similarly found that an industry has grown up around the issue of the sexuality education of young people in the United States, the field in which I have worked for many years. The industrialization of the field has meant, among other things, that concern for its own sustainability has contributed to the institutionalization of the decades’ long intractable conflict over sexuality education in U.S. public schools.

Collective Impact is a framework for social change that has really caught on since its introduction in 2011. Actually, that is an understatement. More accurately, and metaphorically, it has taken off like a rocket and it is yet to be seen just how high it will fly. Through it community change initiatives of all sizes and many organizations have been introduced to its five conditions, the concept of emergence, and the power of backbone organizations. Some are taking time to learn, understand, grasp and implement the ideas undergirding Collective Impact and others are simply slapping the cool new name onto their existing work to impress funders and garner media attention. I am an early adopter and fan of the Collective Impact framework and have used and extended it in my own work.

Yet, I worry.

I worry that “the least of these” are left out of many Collective Impact initiatives. Yes, I know leaders of these initiatives would likely argue that my worry is absurd. “After all,” they might argue, “the initiative exists to help ‘the least of these,’ does it not?” Okay, so it might. HOW it does this, I argue, is at least as important as WHAT it does, especially if sustainable community change is to be achieved.

  • Does it invite “the least of these” to the table where the COMMON AGENDA is created that impacts their lives?
  • Does it train and equip “the least of these” with the skills and knowledge to participate effectively with other initiative partners?
  • Does it build and maintain a culture among all partners that values the participation of “the least of these” in the selection of the BACKBONE ORGANIZATION, SHARED MEASUREMENT strategies, and MUTUALLY REINFORCING ACTIVITIES to be undertaken?
  • Does it use an inclusive decision-making process that ensures the voice and vote of “the least of these” counts?
  • Does it have CONTINUOUS COMMUNICATION systems in place that ensure equal and equitable access and participation of “the least of these?”

Collective Impact initiatives that leave out “the least of these” are just the same old coalitions involving the usual same old players doing the same old things in the same old way. As such, it is business as usual and business as usual is not social change.

I believe community engagement that values “the least of these” and seeks to include them as full partners holds the promise of keeping Collective Impact on track as a powerful framework for social change. Yet, there is still a need to keep “the least of these” at the heart of community engagement. Without “the least of these,” I worry that community engagement merely becomes the industry of marketing.

Hoping this will be a conversation that continues to shape my thinking on these issues, here are my questions for you:

  • What worries do you have about either leaving out “the least of these” or, conversely, fully involving them in your Collective Impact initiative or community engagement work?
  • What is working for you to keep “the least of these” at the forefront of your Collective Impact and/or community engagement work?
  • What would you like to do more of in the future to ensure “the least of these” stay front and center in your work?

Thanks for allowing me to think aloud in this space. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Be greater; do good; every day,

T.W.K.

[i] Shaw-Ridley, M. & Ridley, C. R. (2010). The health disparities industry: Is it an ethical conundrum? Health Promotion Practice, 11(4), 454-464.

Rethinking Sustainability

Let’s get real about sustaining good programs, and even good organizations.  One of my consulting clients has had me on the road over the past few months helping a group of nonprofit organizations create sustainability plans.  The nonprofits have a common funder, which has asked them to continue, in full, a complex project each was heavily funded to create and implement over several years.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I was going to be the bearer of bad news to each of these groups:  sustainability is not possible…if it is defined as simply replacing dollars.

The math just does not support the reality of replacing their awards dollar-for-dollar.  For that to happen, each organization would have to raise at least 15% of their original award in new money, compounded each year over the five years of funding they received, to be ready to continue on their own when the money spigot is turned off.  This kind of growth in contributions is Herculean even in the best of times.

These are not the best of times for nonprofits as illustrated recently in an article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  In brief, of the 400 charities in the United States that raise the most money, donations grew only 4 percent in 2012, and the projection for 2013 is only 3 percent.  Even the United Way Worldwide, a powerhouse in fundraising on behalf of nonprofits in communities around the world, is struggling.  It had only a 1 percent gain from 2011 to 2012 and, since 2007 when the recession began, it has seen at least a 16 percent drop in private donations.  Yes, the United Way is a big organization as are all of those 400 charities.  However, some of them, like the United Way, are also funders of smaller, community-based organizations like those I’ve been visiting over the past few months.  I think you get the idea.  It’s pretty scary stuff, even for Halloween week, so I’ll let you read it for yourself.

My experience in the nonprofit world is that we’ve too often thought of sustainability as simply replacing the money we need to operate our programs and organizations at the status quo.  When the economy is thriving, it tends to work, though it is still a shortsighted strategy.  In lean times, like those we have been facing, it is not realistic.  Today we assume, only to our own destruction, that we actually can simply replace the money.  Since 2007 I’ve seen too many good organizations and good programs cling to this concept of sustainability even as they were closing down and turning out the lights.

What is a realistic approach to sustainability today?  This is the question that has haunted me for some time, especially as I’ve been working with a lot of organizations to help them create sustainability plans for their massive, possibly over-funded, projects.  I don’t have any clear answers but I do have some ideas bubbling up.

Idea #1:  None of us need as much money as we think we do, to do good.  I actually winced when I wrote that because I don’t really want to admit it.  However, I do believe it.  If we are working in the social sector (a term for the nonprofit sector that I’m becoming increasingly fond of), then we need enough funding to pay our staff their worth, to deliver high quality services or programs, and maintain an effective infrastructure.  This can still amount to a lot of money, but what is it about the concept of “nonprofit” that we don’t seem to understand?  Yes, nonprofit work is a business, but it is business that has social good as a bottom line, not profitability.

Idea #2:  Financial stability is realistic and attainable, financial sustainability is neither in the current economy.  I have come to differentiate between financial stability and financial sustainability.  Financial stability means pretty much what I described above:  enough funding to pay staff their worth, to deliver high quality work, and maintain an effective infrastructure.  Financial sustainability, however, is about maintaining the status quo by replacing funds dollar-for-dollar.  Many nonprofit leaders are rightly concerned for raising sufficient funds to merely achieve stability.  I recently completed some research that found a consensus among small nonprofit organization leaders that fundraising was their single most stressful task.  The burden they carry is a great one.  Sometimes, however, it just isn’t possible to sustain every aspect of an organization’s work at its current level.  In fact, some things should not be sustained.  Some services and programs are better provided by other organizations.  Sometimes they are better off being maintained and sustained by volunteers in the community.  Some programs and services are no longer needed.  And, honestly, some services and programs are lousy and should be discontinued altogether.  These are tough calls to make.  Sometimes the political pressure and grief a leader gets from within her/his organization make it impossible to do anything except jump on the fundraising treadmill.  What kind of organizational culture would emerge if leaders were to make those tough calls?  Would they experience less or more stress?  Would there be a renewed focus on doing good for the sake of good?  Just wondering.

Idea #3: Community ownership = sustainability.  This idea has been growing very large for me over the past few months and last couple of years.  The more I learn about social change and sustaining it, the more I become convinced of the power of the community, and society as a whole, to create and sustain the change that is most meaningful to it.  Those of us who are veterans of the American nonprofit system are really experts at coming up with good things to do TO other folks whom we believe need them (as a result of our endless needs assessments).  What I’ve observed on the ground, however, is that our needs assessments rarely engage the people with lived experience of the issue we are trying to address.  Instead, we convene meetings, advisory groups, and, even focus groups, of the usual suspects and ask them what the community needs.  Ironically, and unbelievably, I’ve seen many of these kinds of needs assessments conducted with people who don’t even live in the community, they only work there.  The justification for including these folks?  They are experts.  However, who is really more expert on their community than the people who actually live in it and deal with the issue on a daily basis?  This top down approach has to be propped up through endless fundraising efforts (financial sustainability) and appears to be successful as long as the cash is flowing into it.  However, when the funders lose interest and the money dries up, the nonprofits often go away (many must go away to survive) to greener fields.  This is an oft told, and shameful, story of social change in the United States.  On the other hand, when the community (those people with lived experience of the issue) own the change, it doesn’t go away regardless of the funding.

These are ideas that have been bubbling up within me.  Even more, I’ve allowed the paradigm shift they imply to take root.  The ideas are still bubbling so you can expect to read more about them here in the future.

More later…

T.W.K.