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Invest in Community College Students; Transform Our Communities

April 19, 2016

News_college_grads2_for_PhilanTopicSecuring $60 million in state funding to overhaul remedial education and equip students with the basic skills they need to succeed in college. Procuring free transportation for more than fifty thousand college students. Establishing undocumented student resource centers in California. These are just some examples of what can happen when we invest in a powerful yet untapped catalyst for community transformation: the leadership of community college students.

The nation's nearly twelve million community college students are a key pillar of America's future. Today, almost half of America's undergraduates are studying in community colleges to acquire the skills they need to achieve their dreams and support themselves and their families. These students are diverse, motivated, and hopeful. After graduation, community college students also are more likely to stay in and contribute to their communities, going on to successful careers as teachers, business owners, civic leaders, and more. That's why if we truly want to expand opportunity, grow our economy, and strengthen our communities, we cannot afford to ignore the potential of community college students as advocates for change.

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The Next Generation of Nonprofit Data Standards

April 15, 2016

Our current moment in the human story is often called the age of information. And indeed, we are too-often overwhelmed by the torrent of data coursing through our lives. As a society, we have developed many tools to organize the information we rely on every day. The Dewey Decimal System helps libraries organize books. UPC codes help stores organize their products. Nutrition labels help to present information about food ingredients and nutritional value (or lack thereof) in a way that's consistent and predictable.

Next generation nonprofit data standards

The nonprofit sector has also relied on data standards: we use the government's Employer Identification Number (EIN) to identify individual organizations. The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) is used by many — including GuideStar, Foundation Center, and others — to help reveal the diversity of the nonprofit community, guide funding decisions, and foster collaboration.

But just as other information systems have continued to evolve so must ours. When the Dewey Decimal System was developed in 1876, Melvil Dewey could not have imagined Amazon.com, e-readers, or Goodreads.com. Similarly, the EIN/NTEE framework is simply not enough to explain, organize, and share the complex story of nonprofits.

So we are glad to share the news that a new generation of social sector data standards is emerging. These can help us all do our work better, making smarter decisions while saving time to focus on that work.

There a several standards that are important, but we'd like to direct your attention to four:

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How to Translate Brand Strategy Into an Effective Website

April 14, 2016

Effective-website-designIn my last article, I noted that the best place to start when developing a website is with a clear brand strategy. It is what provides the shared understanding needed to unite the big ideas and day-to-day details of a nonprofit's activities into a cohesive online experience. It is the glue that ensures a site's design, content, and code work together in harmony to express the entirety of an organization's mission, strategy, activities, and impact to a range of audiences.

No small task, especially when talking about a process that typically spans months and involves many participants.

A Complex, Multidisciplinary Process

The process of creating a website is, by its nature, collaborative and multidisciplinary. It involves many contributors — each with a different area of interest, expertise, and professional vocabulary — and typically spans months and countless decisions, which means there's no shortage of opportunities for miscommunication and stumbles. Over the years, I've learned that these can be minimized (they're almost never eliminated, trust me!) by a framework that emphasizes collaboration and establishes clear goals for the team, in a language everyone can understand.

That is why brand strategy is such an effective unifying force. In a medium that calls for collaboration across such a wide range of stakeholders, it is the one thing that everyone can (or should) agree on, support, and apply to the area they are responsible for.

Sounds great in theory, but what, you're probably thinking, does it look like in practice?

Every website has four major components: Brand, Content, Technology, and Design. The most effective sites are those that get all four working together like members of a band — each playing their part, and each complementing the work of the others. When executed well, the results are much like the experience of hearing a great song: harmonious and uplifting, with a clear point of view you can easily relate to.

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Sector Switching: Making the Jump From For-Profit to Non-Profit

April 12, 2016

Jumping-acrossSector switchers — job candidates who have decided to move from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit world — are increasingly common. Many job seekers I talk to are seeking work that feels more meaningful and mission-driven. But it's not always easy to make the move. Candidates often struggle to frame their experience in a way that makes sense to nonprofit employers and sometimes find it difficult to break through the initial resistance to the fact their background is in a different sector.

In other words, making the leap from the for-profit to non-profit sector requires serious research and preparation as well as changes to the way you talk about yourself and your work. Below are five tips that will help ensure you make the move successfully:

1. Do your homework. Not every nonprofit is going to value and/or know how to leverage the business-world skills you bring to the table. Spend some time learning about the nonprofits in your region and what they do. For extra credit, research the backgrounds of their key leaders, looking for anything that might indicate the organization is open to hiring people from other sectors.

2. Network, network, network. Relentless networking is an absolute must if you hope to be a successful sector switcher. Using the research you've done on the nonprofit leaders in your city or region, create a networking list. Next, figure out who in your own network can connect you to the key people at the nonprofits you're interested in. Finally, prepare an elevator pitch for your own contacts that briefly spells out the kind of job you are looking for, why you are a good fit for the position, and what you are asking your contact to do (introduction? information about a particular organization? resume advice?).

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 9-10, 2016)

April 10, 2016

Robin-on-branchOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

Black Lives Matter is both a sprawling social movement and a civil rights organization with more than thirty chapters across the United States. But that distinction, and many other  nuances, rarely make it into coverage of either the movement or the organization, writes Jephie Bernard, a student at the Columbia School of Journalism, on the CJR website.

Communications/Marketing

And not a moment too soon...  NWB's Vu Le rides to the defense of the Oxford comma.

Global Health

"Pessimism is fashionable. It's also wrong," writes Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther. "People are safer, better-educated, better-fed, and wealthier than they used to be. Democracy and human rights are spreading. Perhaps most important, people, and in particular the world's poorest people, are healthier." So why aren't we cheering? Because, says Gunther, echoing others, "the world's governments, aid agencies, foundations and nonprofits could be doing much better."

Grantmaking

On our sister Transparency Talk blog, the Surdna Foundation's Adriana Jimenez explains how the foundation's decision to move to a workflow- and cloud-based system grants management system has enabled it to work more collaboratively with grantees; increased collaboration and learning within the foundation; and improved its capacity to share data and lessons learned with the rest of the sector.

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Flint’s Crisis Raises Questions — and Cautions — About the Role of Philanthropy

April 08, 2016

Dirty-bottled-waterThe public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, continues to unfold before the eyes of the world. For nearly eighteen months, water drawn from the Flint River was sent without proper treatment into the city's infrastructure, corroding aging pipes and fixtures. Lead leached into the water supply and flowed to local homes, schools, and businesses. The results: a near doubling in the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood, a wave of other health concerns throughout the community, severely damaged infrastructure, and despair regarding the city's prospects for economic recovery.

This terrible situation in the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation's hometown has sparked numerous questions, including one that should be of interest to every foundation: What is the role of philanthropy in responding to a community in crisis? At Mott, we've felt the need to act immediately on some issues and with great deliberation on others. We've also been called upon to discuss the role of philanthropy in funding infrastructure projects. It's my hope that our experiences thus far might be helpful to other philanthropies that could face similar challenges in the future.

When the high levels of lead exposure among Flint children were revealed in September of 2015, Mott acted quickly to begin the long process of bringing safe drinking water back to our hometown. In addition to a grant of $100,000 to provide residents with home water filters, we pledged $4 million to help reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system. With an additional $6 million from the state of Michigan and $2 million from the city of Flint, that switch took place on October 16.

Our decision to help pay for the switch was a no-brainer. Since our founding ninety years ago, we've had a deep and unwavering commitment to our home community. We couldn't sit on the sidelines while the children of Flint were being harmed. Our role as a catalyst for the return to safer water speaks to one of philanthropy's most valuable attributes: the ability to respond swiftly when disaster strikes to help people meet their basic needs.

But after taking swift action, the question then becomes "What next?"

As important as it was to act quickly to reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system, we also realized that it sometimes makes sense for philanthropies to fight the impulse to make major commitments while a disaster is still unfolding. Two aspects of Flint's water crisis show us why.

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The Empowered Leader…or 5 Reasons Why ‘Strategic Doing’ Beats Strategic Planning

April 07, 2016

Strategic-Plan-Poster Edited2One of these days I'm going to sit down and write a treatise on why I believe strategic thinking and strategic leadership are more valuable than strategic planning — particularly, but not only, in a not-for-profit context. I'm going to do it, I promise, but not today. I'm too busy doing stuff.

So apparently was Southwest Airline's legendary founder and CEO Herb Kelleher, who held that "strategy is overrated, simply doing stuff is underrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things." Or, as management guru Tom Peters puts it, "the thing that keeps a business ahead of the competition is excellence in execution."

How many of us were taught that "boards make policy and executives implement it"? Turns out that assertion is both over-simplistic and short-sighted, at least as far as well-functioning organizations are concerned. The empowered leader — whether nonprofit or for-profit — must own and lead both the strategy process and the strategy itself, which is one reason why strategic planning is overrated and often ineffective. Done conventionally, strategic planning empowers the consultant, not the executive. Executive coaching, on the other hand, invests in the development of leaders who then empower their organizations, boards, and staffs to think big and execute well.

I'm not saying that strategic planning isn't important. It certainly is — especially to the legions of pricey consultants happy to have you pay for their thick workbooks and the many billable hours needed to walk the strategic planning team through them. Strategic planning is, after all, a big business. (Don't believe me? Stop by one of McKinsey's hundred and nine offices around the globe and chat with one of the eleven thousand consultants and advisors the firm employs.)

So what's a better option? You guessed it: focused and well-executed executive coaching. One-on-one coaching can be a valuable and effective alternative (or, even, precursor) to a full-on strategic planning process, especially for the already overwhelmed and over-burdened executive who is worried about the cost, in terms of time and money, of the latter.

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An Alliance for Action — and a Safe Space for Conversations About Race

April 05, 2016

On Easter Sunday, my godson, Elijah, had his first encounter with the police. He is not yet three years old. His mother was pulled over because her Volkswagen Touareg has tinted windows. The tint is legal, and she wasn’t given a ticket. Nonetheless, in thinking about law enforcement and how to explain the situation to Elijah, we all grew anxious. We recognize that this will be one of many discussions we will need to have with him about the law, the police, and discrimination — simply because he is a black boy living in America.

Elijah_marisa_lee_for_PhilanTopicThe lessons we intended to teach Elijah on Easter — how to properly crack an Easter egg, why the Easter bunny brings baskets only to good little boys, and how Peeps expand dramatically in the microwave — were all interrupted by the lessons we felt compelled to start teaching him about what it means to be a black man in America. My cousin, Elijah's mother, is a critical care nurse, her husband a doctor. They live in an affluent neighborhood in Maryland. Yet I can't help but dread the day Elijah stops being seen as "adorable" and begins to be perceived as a "threat." What will we need to tell him then about how to behave in public? Will we stop him from wearing hooded sweatshirts so that others don't automatically think he's a "thug"? Will we tell him he can't run through his own neighborhood with his friends out of fear the police might see them and assume the worst?

Even if we teach him all the "right" things, and even if he actually listens (which, if he's anything like his godmother, he won't), we still won't be able to guarantee his safety. That's the concern that comes with being responsible for a young black man in America. I would never wish for Elijah to be white, but I do wish he didn't have to bear the burden of being a black boy. And the lack of control over the situation I feel surely is only a fraction of the anxiety that must haunt his parents — a shared anxiety that, despite their advanced degrees, fancy jobs, and above-average paychecks, will continue to fester as they, and I, work to guide Elijah safely into adulthood.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 2-3, 2016)

April 03, 2016

Baseball_3Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Education

StudentsFirst, the education reform organization started by controversial former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, is being merged into education advocacy organization 50Can. "Rhee's group launched on Oprah Winfrey's talk show in 2010, with the goal of raising $1 billion dollars in its first year," writes Joy Resmovits in the Washington Post. "The goal was then revised to $1 billion over five years; in its first year, it brought in only $7.6 million."  Rhee stepped down as CEO of the organization in 2014, after which it closed a number of state chapters, downsized its staff, and lowered its profile.

Environment

Two-thirds of the environmentalists who have died violently since 2002 were activists in Latin America. And for the five years ending in 2014, more than 450 were killed -- over half of them in Honduras and Brazil. Darryl Fears reports for the Washington Post.

On March 15, the World Health Organization released the second edition of a report on the health challenges that arise from living and working in unhealthy environments. The UN Foundation's Analise McNicholl shares five takeaways from the  report. 

A recent state task force report called the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, an "environmental justice." But what does that mean -- and what can we do to ensure that instances of similar injustice are eliminated? Brentin Mock examines those questions for The Atlantic's City Labs portal.

Higher Education

Phase-one results from College Count$, a joint research project established in April 2015 by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation, demonstrate that low-income students who've participated in the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) earn associate degrees or technical certificates at more than double the rate of the general community college population in the state and experience a boost in wages. College Count$ itself currently is seeking funding for the next phase of research to measure the return on investment (ROI) to the state generated as a result of expanded employment, increased tax revenues, and a decline in the need for public assistance. 

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2016)

April 02, 2016

April showers have arrived, right on cue. Perfect weather for kicking back and catching up on the most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in March....

What did you read/watch/listen to last month that made you think, got you riled up, or restored your faith in humanity? Share with the rest of us in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

5 Questions for...Pamela Shifman, Executive Director, NoVo Foundation

April 01, 2016

Of the 1.8 billion young people in the world, approximately half — some 900 million — are adolescent girls and young women. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before the age of 15, 38 percent are married before the age of 18, and more than half never complete their primary school education. In the United States, girls and young women, especially girls and young women of color, face a different but related set of challenges. African-American girls are suspended from school, sent to foster care, and incarcerated at rates higher than other girls. Latina girls have the lowest four-year high-school graduation rates and highest pregnancy rates. And Native-American girls are two and half times more likely to experience sexual assault.

In response to these challenges, the NoVo Foundation, a private foundation created in 2006 by Jennifer and Peter Buffett that has long worked in the U.S. and Global South, last week announced a $90 million commitment to support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color here in the U.S. The day after the announcement, PND spoke via email with Pamela Shifman, the foundation's executive director, about the investment, the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color, and how the initiative complements NoVo's ongoing support for girls and young women in the Global South.

Philanthropy News Digest: I think a lot of people were surprised by the size of the investment NoVo has decided to make in improving the lives of girls and young women of color in the United States. In fact, it's the largest commitment ever made by a private foundation to address the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color. In going "big," is the foundation making a statement about what it elsewhere calls the "invisibility" of girls and young women of color?

Headshot_pamela_shifman_philantopicPamela Shifman: We're making a major investment in this work because it is central to our mission. NoVo has always worked at the intersection of racial and gender justice, and we've included a focus on adolescent girls going back to our inception in 2006. We are a social justice foundation, with a deep commitment to dismantling the structural barriers that perpetuate inequality, so it's always been clear to us that we needed to focus on girls. To date, much of our work with adolescent girls has focused on the Global South. That work is essential to our foundation and will continue to be a significant focus of ours.

But the need is also great in the United States. We began working with girls and young women of color in the U.S. over four years ago and launched an initial strategy in 2014. We've been guided by the groundbreaking work of partners like Sister Sol, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, The Beautiful Project, Young Women Empowered, and many others. Our new commitment will allow us to deepen this work.

As we've pursued grantmaking in this area, we've been struck by the pervasive and deep-seated myth that girls, including girls of color, are doing fine. By being public about our commitment, we hope to join with others in sending a clear message: girls and young women of color face specific disparities that are holding them back. Women of color activists have led a national movement to name and address these disparities, and there is a huge opportunity for philanthropy, government, and others to step up and support this work.

PND: What kinds of structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color do you hope to address through the initiative?

PS: If you look at the lived experience of girls and young women of color, you'll find structural inequities almost everywhere. Let's start with education. According to a landmark report from the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School's Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy, across the nation black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls. Among indigenous girls, almost half, 49 percent, do not finish high school.

Safety — both inside and outside the home — is a huge issue. According to Black Women's Blueprint, 60 percent of black girls experience sexual abuse by the age of 18. Sixty-two percent of Latina girls report not feeling safe in their communities, and indigenous girls are two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other girls. Twenty-two trans women and girls were murdered in the US in 2015, with women and girls of color making up a disproportionate number of the victims. The fear and threat of violence shapes every aspect of a girl's life, impacting her mobility, sense of safety, and bodily integrity.

Barriers to economic security also are very real. Thirty-five to 40 percent of Asian-American/Pacific Islander girls, for example, live in poverty, despite a widespread perception that suggests otherwise.

These disparities are deeply unacceptable in their own right, but they're even more troubling when you see how they combine into new disparities in adulthood. Today the median wealth for single black women is just $100, compared to $44,000 for single white men. Inequality starts early, and it must be addressed early if we want to create lasting change.

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What We Learned About Collective Impact Through Raising the Blended Catalyst Fund

March 31, 2016

Community_building3At Living Cities we are looking beyond grants to focus on blending all types of capital to get better outcomes for low-income people, faster. One of the primary tools we have is the Catalyst Fund, a pool of philanthropic capital that we have used to fund the acceleration, scaling, and replication of promising practices. Based on what we learned from the Catalyst Fund, we recently raised our second fund, the Blended Catalyst Fund, which blends grants, philanthropic debt, and commercial lending from ten different investors. It's exciting to be able to bring together a diverse set of investors for a common purpose. But the diverseness of our investors also meant they each came to us with a different set of goals and restrictions, and as a result we had to overcome some challenges before we could close our fund. The challenges were similar to those faced by many organizations leading a cross-sector partnership.

Here are four things we learned about collective impact through raising our newest fund:

1. Be clear about the "why." What are you hoping to do collectively that participants can't do on their own? In our case, we assumed that because of our investors’ involvement in Living Cities, they already intuited our why. It wasn't until we were able to articulate what we wanted to do together that our investors fully bought into the idea of a new fund. We realized that you're never really past the why. The why is the shared end-game that we all want to achieve, so articulating it is the most crucial component to getting everyone on the same page and the key to keeping all your participants engaged. When we bring potential investments for the Blended Catalyst Fund to our investors now, we are purposeful about emphasizing the impact and innovation, because that is our why.

2. Allow and expect your partners to articulate their own positions and concerns. When we first started building our fund, we — like many "backbone" or intermediary organizations at the center of cross-sector partnerships — believed we had to be the main interpreters and speak for our investors. We were operating in a hub-and-spoke manner. Instead of acting as a network, we were having one-on-one conversations to understand individual investor concerns. As we saw two groups of investor interests emerging, we continued the individual relationships and acted as a messenger between the groups, negotiating with each party, controlling the conversation and what was happening. When we opened up the process and asked our investors to voice their own opinions and concerns, it not only helped build trust within the group, but it also built our investors' trust in us. After the change in our approach, we had valuable discussions with investors setting expectations for what each wanted out of the fund, discussing how much risk each was comfortable taking on, and pushing each other to stretch.

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A Cure for HIV: Cracking the Code

March 30, 2016

Crack-the-codeIt is rare in the field of biomedical research that a complex scientific challenge can be reduced to a quartet of deceptively simple sounding steps. After thirty years of incremental progress and steady accumulation of knowledge — and close to half a billion dollars expended by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research alone — we've reached such a juncture in our quest to find a cure for one of the most deadly viruses of our time — HIV.

The principal barrier to a cure is the reservoirs of persistent virus that remain in a person even after they have reached a so-called "undetectable" level of HIV as a result of antiretroviral therapy (ART). The four key questions that need to be answered all relate to these reservoirs: Where exactly in the body and in which types of cells are they located? How do they become established and how do they maintain themselves? How much virus do they contain? And, finally, how can we safely get rid of them?

HIV cure research has largely evolved from a process of discovery to a technological challenge. We need to develop the tools and agents to answer these key questions. Once we have answers, we can begin to cure some of the people some of the time, then most of the people most of the time. Ultimately, we hope, we'll have a safe and effective cure that can be made available to all who need it.

At the outset of World War II, the United States and its allies found themselves in a race against time and a Nazi war machine that was making alarming progress toward the development of an atomic bomb. And so the Manhattan Project was born. President Roosevelt marshaled the best scientific minds in the nation and provided them with the resources necessary to mount a massive collaborative effort and be first to the finish line.

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Evidence at the Crossroads: The Next Generation of Evidence-Based Policy

March 28, 2016

US CapitolWhen we began our "Evidence at the Crossroads" blog series, we posited that evidence-based policy making was at a crossroads. In the past six months — despite rancorous partisan debates and a fierce presidential primary season — Congress surprised everyone and passed the long overdue re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with strong support from both parties.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes over eighty mentions of "evidence" and "evidence-based," and a devolution of power to states and districts to implement those provisions. And earlier this month, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), was approved by the Senate and the House in another display of cooperation.

It is promising that at a time of heightened political rancor, evidence-based policy is finding bipartisan support. But the road ahead is still tenuous, and much will depend on whether the evidence movement can evolve. Here, I draw on the terrific ideas and insights from the authors of the series to suggest three steps for moving forward: focus on improvement, attend to bodies of evidence, and build state and local capacity for evidence use.

Focus on improvement

It's time to position evidence-based policy as a learning endeavor. Implementing and scaling interventions in different contexts with diverse groups is notoriously challenging. Promising results are emerging, but not all are home runs. The history of evaluation research shows that most evaluations yield mixed or null results, and this generation of studies will produce the same. Interventions work in some places for some people, but not others. Even new studies of established interventions turn up findings that are inconsistent with prior studies. What should we make of these results?

One direction we should not take is to obscure these findings or pretend they don't exist. I fear that already happens too often. The rhetoric of the What Works agenda — funding more of what works and less of what doesn't — has created an environment that pressures program developers to portray home run results, communications engines to spin findings, and evaluation reports to become more convoluted and harder to interpret.

Improvement could be the North Star for the next generation of the evidence movement. The idea of building and using evidence simply to sift through what works and what doesn’t is wasteful and leaves us disappointed. We need to find ways to improve programs, practices, and systems in order to achieve better outcomes at scale. Let's not be too hasty in abandoning approaches that do not instantly pay off and instead learn from the investments that have been made. After all, many established interventions had years to gestate, learn from evidence, and improve. Let's not cut short this process for new innovations that are just starting out.

This is not to say that anything goes. Patrick McCarthy reminds us that when research evidence consistently shows that a policy or program doesn't work — or even produces harm — it should be discontinued. Indeed, the next generation of evidence-based policy will need to aim toward improvement while keeping an eye on whether progress is being made.

Attend to bodies of evidence

If evidence-based policy is to realize its potential to improve the systems in which young people learn, grow, and receive care, we need to rely on bodies of research evidence. Too often, public systems are pressured to seek silver bullet solutions. A focus on single studies of program effectiveness encourages this way of thinking. But, as Mark Lipsey writes, "multiple studies are needed to support generalization beyond the idiosyncrasies of a single study." Just as a narrow aperture can exclude the important context of an image, so too does focusing on a narrow set of findings exclude the larger body of knowledge that can inform efforts to improve outcomes at scale.

State and local leaders need to draw on bodies of research evidence. This includes not only studies of what works, but of what works for whom, under what conditions, and at what cost. What Works evidence typically reflects the average impact of an intervention in the places where it was evaluated. For decision makers in other localities, that evidence is only somewhat useful. States and localities ultimately need to know whether the intervention will work in their communities, under their operating conditions, and given their resources. Evidence-based policy needs to address those questions.

To meet decision makers' varied evidence needs, the evidence movement also needs to focus greater and more nuanced attention to implementation research. Real-world implementation creates tension between strict adherence to program models and the need to adapt them to local systems. To address this tension, we need to build a more robust evidence base on key implementation issues, such as how much staffing or training is required, how resources should be allocated, and how to align new interventions with existing programs and systems. As Barbara Goodson and Don Peurach argue, we have built a powerful infrastructure for building evidence of program impacts, but we need to match it with equally robust structures for implementation evidence.

And finally, the evidence-based policy movement needs to recognize the importance of descriptive and measurement research that helps local decision makers better understand the particular challenges they are facing and better judge whether existing interventions are well suited to address those problems. For those needs assessments, descriptive and measurement studies can be critical.

Build state and local capacity

As decision making devolves to states and localities, the way the federal government defines its role will also change. In the wake of ESSA, officials in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are aiming to move beyond top-down compliance. But to do so they will need to identify new means to support states, districts, and practitioners in the evidence agenda. States and localities are not mere implementers of federal policies, nor are they simply sites of experimentation. A key way to foster the success of the evidence movement is to support the capacity of state and local decision makers to build and use evidence to improve their systems and outcomes.

Technical assistance is one way that the federal government can support capacity, and it'll be important to direct technical assistance to state and local decision makers and grantees in productive ways. While tiered evidence initiatives such as i3 have provided grantees with technical assistance to conduct rigorous impact evaluations, assistance has focused less on other key issues: helping grantees apply continuous improvement principles and practices, vet and partner with external evaluators, and build productive collaborations with districts and other local agencies to implement programs.

Providing technical assistance in these areas would increase the ultimate success of these evidence-based initiatives.

Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) are another way to support state and local agencies. In education, these long-terms partnerships can provide the research infrastructure that is lacking in many states and districts as they seek to implement the evidence provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act. RPPs can help districts and schools interpret the existing evidence base and discern which interventions are best aligned with their needs. In instances where the evidence base is lacking, RPPs are poised to conduct ongoing research to evaluate the interventions that are put into place. Similarly, in child welfare, research-practice partnerships could provide states with additional capacity as they develop Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Projects to test new approaches for delivering and financing services in order to improve child and family outcomes.

The federal government is perhaps uniquely situated to build and harness research evidence, so that what is learned in one place need not be reinvented in another and the lessons accumulate. Mark Lipsey suggests that federally funded research require the collection and reporting of common data elements so that individual studies can be synthesized. Don Peurach imagines ways the federal government can support an "improvement infrastructure." We should consider these ideas and others as we move forward.

Foundations also have a role. Private funders are able to support learning in ways that are harder for the federal government to do. The William T. Grant and Spencer foundations' i3 learning community, for example, provided a venue for program developers to share the challenges they faced in scaling their programs and to problem solve with one another. In another learning community, our foundation supported a network of federal research and evaluation staff across various agencies and offices to learn from each other. A learning community requires candor and can provide a safe and open environment to identify challenges and generate solutions. Foundations can also produce tools and share models that states and localities can draw upon in using evidence. With fewer bureaucratic hurdles, we can often do this with greater speed than the federal government.

Realizing the potential of evidence in policymaking

The ascendance of research evidence in policy in the past two decades gave way to investments in innovation, experimentation, and evaluation that signaled great progress in the way our nation responds to its challenges. But for all the progress we've made in building and using evidence of What Works, we've also been left with blind spots. As a researcher, I did not enter my line of work expecting simple answers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Researchers, policy makers, and practitioners know that there is always more to learn than yes or no; more at stake than thumbs up or thumbs down. We build and use research evidence not just to identify what works, but to strengthen and improve programs and systems — to build knowledge that can improve kids' lives and better their chances to get ahead.

As we approach the next generation of evidence-based policy, it's essential we take steps to ensure that practitioners and decision makers at the state and local level have the support they need.

Headshot_vivian_tsengThe above post by Vivian Tseng, vice president, program, at the William T. Grant Foundation, is the eleventh and final post in the foundation's "Evidence at the Crossroads" series, in which it sought to provoke discussion and debate about the state of evidence use in policy, with a focus on federal efforts  to build and use evidence of What Works. It is reprinted here with permission of the foundation. You can read other posts in the series here and/or register for a free event co-sponsored by the foundation, "Building State and Local Capacity for Evidence-Based Policymaking," in Washington, D.C., on March 30.

Weekend Link Roundup (March 26-27, 2016)

March 27, 2016

CherryblossomOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Forty-one percent of Americans — a record number — believe global warming poses "a serious threat to them or their way of life." Aamna Mohdin reports for Quartz.

Another sign of the times: The Rockefeller Family Fund, a family philanthropy created by Martha, John, Laurance, Nelson, and David Rockefeller in 1967 with money "borne of the fortune of John D. Rockefeller," America's original oil baron, has announced its intent to divest from fossil fuels, a process that "will be completed as quickly as possible." You can read the complete statement here

And the New York Times' coverage of new findings warning of the potentially devastating consequences of unchecked global warming, in a much more compressed time frame than previously thought, should get everyone's attention.

Conservation

What is the most effective way to protect wild lands? Traditional place-based conservation? Or through efforts to reshape markets and reduce demand for the development of those lands? Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther explores that question with Aileen Lee, chief program officer for environmental conservation at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, one of the largest private funders of environmental conservation efforts in the world.

Corporate Social Responsibility

"What we are seeing," write Brigit Helms and Oscar Farfán on the Huffington Post Impact blog, "is not just a passing trend, but the beginning of a new form of business — a business that looks beyond profits to generate social value, the business of the future. Tectonic forces are accelerating this movement. At the global level, the most important one involves a cultural shift driven mainly by millennials. The new generation sees the main role of business as that of 'improving society', and not just generating profits...."

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