Best Practices

8 02, 2016

Re-visioning funder impact

By |February 8th, 2016|Evaluation, Best Practices, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized|0 Comments

When it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, it turns out to be not so good for the trees– or the forest. Jennifer Teunon, the Executive Director  of the Medina Foundation has recently written a thoughtful piece on the Philanthropy Northwest blog (reposted from National Center for Family Philanthropy) about the need for grantmakers to re-think their approach to funding for non-profit organizations. She does a great job of describing the corrosive real-world effects on grantees of the program-specific approach to funding favored by most funders in contrast to a general operations funding approach. When funders only look at the specific programs that a non-profit operates rather than its work as a whole (i.e., the infrastructure required to support the whole package), valuable staff time is bled off to respond to ever more granular grantwriting demands. On top of that added stress, program-specific funding also fragments organizations and promotes a silo mentality, sapping a non-profits’ vitality. We appreciate Jennifer’s shout-out to nonprofit leaders who are calling attention to this problem such as our friend Vu Le of Rainier Valley Corps, whose blog often takes on this topic with insight and unicorn jokes. We also appreciate  Jennifer’s recognition that an underlying factor contributing to grantmakers’ narrow focus on programmatic outcomes is the grantmakers’ need to demonstrate its own impact. As she puts it, “I believe [a grantmakers’ tendency towards a granular focus on programs] is primarily because foundations want to understand and quantify their own impact. By earmarking dollars to a specific program, many foundations hope to draw a line from the dollars they give to the outcomes nonprofits achieve.” And that cuts to the heart of the problem…  […]

28 05, 2015

Towards a healthy and drug-free lifestyle for youth: Discovering what works in your community

By |May 28th, 2015|Substance Use Prevention, Evidence-Based Decision Making, Best Practices|0 Comments

Today, hundreds of Federally-funded drug and alcohol-focused community coalitions operate across the United States, joined by many others that rely primarily upon state or private funding. The watchword these coalitions share is prevention, and the overriding challenge they live for is to offer effective support for our nation’s youth in living a healthy and drug-free lifestyle. At conferences, in online events, and in our work with such coalitions, there is a key question on everyone’s mind: “What preventive strategies work most effectively in our distinctive community, and how do we know whether we are succeeding?” As an evaluator, I think those are great questions. Really, they comprise the bottom line for any strategic effort. I also believe that these coalitions are in an excellent position to answer these questions—not in the abstract, but in terms of their own community, their own neighborhoods, and the youth they know and seek to serve. It is possible to discover what works—and what doesn’t work—to achieve a particular prevention goal in a particular community. I believe this for two reasons. […]

7 04, 2015

Moneyball- coming soon to a boardroom near you!

By |April 7th, 2015|Evaluation, Evidence-Based Decision Making, Best Practices|0 Comments

In case you somehow missed it, Moneyball is a 2011 movie based on the book by Michael Lewis. Based on a true story, it depicts a baseball team, the 2002 Oakland Athletics, that found itself unable to compete with teams that had three times their team payroll. Facing the collapse of his club, manager Billy Beane realized that relying on the traditional insights of scouts simply wouldn’t result in a competitive team given the budget the A’s had available. Instead, he turned to the most unlikely of advisors, a statistician who never played baseball but who had a deep understanding of two things: 1) what measurable events best predict wins (primarily runs scored), and 2) what individual performance statistics predict those runs. Using the power of data, Beane could identify low-cost/high impact players that scouts overlooked. The result (spoiler alert!): this radical “Moneyball” approach rocketed the underdog Oakland A’s into the playoffs– at a fraction of the salary of the teams they competed against. It’s an inspiring story, with potential application in many fields (no pun intended!). The Moneyball approach is starting up in several sectors: you may have heard of evidence-based policy (government) or evidence-based practice (medicine and mental health). We prefer “evidence-based decision making,” characterized by a potent strategy to make effective decisions through the use of data. The ideas in Moneyball relate to key decisions that leaders face. […]

2 01, 2015

Has the time come for Moneyball for government?

By |January 2nd, 2015|Evaluation, Data and Statistics, Evidence-Based Decision Making, Best Practices|0 Comments

Tying funding for social programs to their effectiveness seems like a no-brainer. Sadly, however, genuine evidence-based decision making in policy and budget priority-setting in federal social spending is all too rare. Evaluations are often required in federally-funded social programs; however, the standards of evidence have often been unclear or lacking altogether (Sorry, but using client satisfaction scales as your sole measure of success is a poor way to measure effectiveness!). On top of that, since performance is rarely considered in funding decisions, little incentive exists for programs to change and improve in response to evaluative feedback. An effort to rectify this situation began in the Bush II years— but even then, less than .2 percent of all nonmilitary discretionary programs were held to rigorous evaluation standards. Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? That’s a particularly disturbing figure when you consider that, according to Ron Haskins in the NYT, “75 percent of programs or practices that are intended to help people do better at school or at work have little or no effect.” One way of interpreting this shocking figure is that in the absence of evidence-based decision making, a massive amount of funds are tied up in supporting ineffective programs that could be invested in promising alternatives. […]

10 04, 2012

Context is king: Learn how to fish.

By |April 10th, 2012|Leadership, Best Practices, Strategic Planning|0 Comments

OK, so context is important. But to focus on “everything” is to focus on nothing. Without some sort of filter to determine what’s significant, the world, to quote William James, is a “great, buzzing confusion.” Eventually you must decide which contextual elements are most important with respect to achieving your organization’s mission. So how to prioritize? Well, the philosophy of science tells us that we have a couple of choices. We could start with some a priori assumptions about what makes for effective leadership. Approaching the problem this way means that you rigidly apply those Seven Habits or Six Sigma or One-Minute or Four-Hour principles to every situation, because those are the fixed principles you must accept as valid in every situation and for every leader. […]

9 03, 2012

The First Degree of Freedom: Context is king.

By |March 9th, 2012|Leadership, Best Practices, Strategic Planning|0 Comments

I’ve got a dirty little secret to share with you today. Buried deep inside the guts of far too many popular books on leadership, lies a seductive premise. It’s a premise that sells a lot of books, and it goes something like this: “This books contains Ingredient X, the secret to success as a leader in all circumstances and settings. If only you master the art of X, and perform it rigorously in all situations you face as a leader, then you will succeed.” So X is whatever the author claims to be the secret of success as a leader. Just master that key perspective or skill and make sure that you rigorously apply it to every situation. Be consistent in practicing these enumerated habits or those leadership secrets of Abraham Lincoln/ Jesus Christ/ Attila the Hun and you will be the effective leader you aspire to become. […]

10 02, 2012

The Four Degrees of Freedom

By |February 10th, 2012|Leadership, Best Practices, Strategic Planning|0 Comments

The value proposition for this blog is unassuming but profound (in our humble collective opinion). Indeed, my TrueBearing colleagues and I stake our intellectual and pragmatic passion on four interlocking principles of organizational leadership and decision-making that we refer to as The Four Degrees of Freedom. The Four Degrees are important touchstones in our work as evaluators. Without further ado, here they are: The Four Degrees of Freedom             •  Context is king.             •  It’s always a good time for a gut check.             •  Data rules.             •  Bring it. Tweak it. Repeat. In the next several posts we’ll explore  what the Four Degrees are and why they are so urgently needed in today’s work environment. Let’s start by looking at where the term “four degrees of freedom” came from. […]

20 12, 2011

The 17,000,001st time’s a charm

By |December 20th, 2011|Leadership, Evaluation, Best Practices|0 Comments

Technorati estimates that the Internet hosted no fewer than 112.8 million blogs in 2011. Wow. Let that number sink in. That’s a whole lot of bloggery! It pencils out to one blog for every 63 people on the face of the planet. […]