What are funders interested in scale and results talking about these days? A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Grantmakers in Arts 2012 Conference in Miami.
This year’s conference theme was “Forging Connections,” and I found the notion of connections incredibly relevant for scaling impact. Creating vibrant, livable communities is the responsibility of not just one project or organization, but rather partners across a sector and the entire community working together for change.
We explored an example of a community aspiring to build connections involving entire sectors, such as the arts, education, and workforce development.
The Greater Cincinnati area has a strong history of collaboration. Leading funders, such as the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, are considering ways to take a collective approach to achieving social impact.
Specifically, they are talking about a collective impact approach described in “Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work” that identifies five key factors to facilitate change:
1) a common agenda, 2) shared measurement, 3) mutually reinforcing activity, 4) continuous communication, and 5) backbone support.
Within Cincinnati’s Arts sector, ArtsWave is forging ahead with a Community Impact Agenda. ArtsWave is one of the oldest and largest arts support organizations in the country. It serves as a funder for over 100 arts organizations in the region. Last year, ArtsWave designed what they called an “Impact Agenda.”
The agenda identified outcomes such as: a connected and engaged community, improved quality of life for key demographic groups, and employment in specific industry sectors.
What is exciting about their work is their desire to establish shared outcomes, across the sector, that help focus the work of multiple organizations and that are relevant and measurable.
During our session, one participant insightfully asked: “What is the role of a funder in developing a Collective Impact approach? How do you balance accountability and quality improvement?”
As one who has served as an evaluator in foundations over the years, I found this question critical. Developing shared outcomes, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting are inevitably used to serve a purpose. Often, the purpose is not clear.
A key factor in useful evaluations is recognizing that purposes typically shift over time, and that early stages of a project should focus on learning and improvement, while later stages on judgment and accountability. In the earliest stages of innovative projects, evaluation can even be used to develop the program itself. This new form of evaluation, or developmental evaluation, is a current topic of conversation among professional evaluators and is worth tracking.
Finally, one important takeaway from our conversations among funders was to “start where you’re at.” Data and outcomes are often more concrete topics of conversation that can lead to other important factors needed to scale impact.
Taking a first step helps build momentum to move down the path of wide-spread social change. Going to scale is no small endeavor, and it takes vision and commitment to begin the journey.
Hanleybrown, F., Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2012). Channeling change: Making collective impact work. Stanford Social Innovation Review 10(1).
Preskill, H. & Beer, T. (2012). Evaluation Social Innovation. Available at: http://www.evaluationinnovation.org/sites/default/files/EvaluatingSocialInnovation.pdf