Great Expectations: One Measure at a Time

Posted by Janet Starke , Jun 03, 2015 0 comments

Tis the season for all things grants. Grant applications, grant reports, grant prospecting (well really, that season never ends). In the past 90 days, I have had my hand in nearly a dozen grants, mostly to corporate and community foundations, as well as (state) government.

Those of you who work in this realm or in tandem with your development team know the drill: mission, check. Need, check. Project description, check. Impact, check. Or in this one, outcomes. But wait, the other one is asking for metrics and measurements. This one is looking for more quantitative measurement. That one encourages qualitative data. And the school systems to whom I am providing services are looking to still different outcomes and measurements altogether. And while so many benevolent community funders have taken the seemingly Herculean effort to equitably support both social services and cultural (education) funding, so often then, we are asked to complete evaluation templates that are really geared towards social service sector outcomes.

As a program director, how do you balance all the expectations, the varied vocabulary, the convergent and divergent expectations and measures of accountability? Don’t get me wrong—I believe our programs can only succeed when we have defined outcomes and measurements, and effective tools and protocols for data collection and analysis. But what happens when the intended outcomes suggested by one funding entity are in complete juxtaposition to the measurements you have already enacted to meet the expectations of another? Or more likely the case, measurements designed to inform the larger, more relevant body of research among arts education practitioners? And how do you negotiate these expectations with those of the school systems whom you’re serving, who are often looking towards a wholly different set of outcomes and measurements for impact?

We have long struggled with applying social service practices to non-profit arts and arts education practices. I’m pleased to see more current collaborative models that can help to address these challenges. Among them, the Collective Impact model created by Mark Kramer and John Kania which, in large part, aims to bring together these sectors and many others (daring to turn the consortia model on its ear) to solve complex social problems. They saw the value of organizations working together towards the identification of common goals and measurement, as they published a 2009 report “Breakthroughs in Shared Measurement” which can be found here.

I can attest to a changing mindset in my own community, as our funders are engaging us in a conversation about relevant outcomes to our respective fields, listening to our feedback and working to develop protocols that are mutually beneficial to their ability to measure the impact of their investment dollars, while also aiming to not overburden an organization from realizing an effective program that truly meets the need of its intended audience. Just today, I had the opportunity to attend a grant workshop, hosted by our local Community Foundation (The Community Foundation serving Richmond and Central Virginia). We have been fortunate to receive prior support from them for our education programs, and they were one of the first to support flexibility in applying our existing evaluation and assessment protocols/measurements (at the time designed by Dr. Rob Horowitz) to their anticipated outcomes template. Today, they have further revised their outcomes section by guiding organizations through the development of a Logic Model—a tool I feel can be so much more easily adapted to relevant work in both fields (social service and the arts).

We are making progress in holding this work accountable, by working together to create and apply more uniform outcomes and measurements. But there’s still work to be done. We need to engage all the stakeholders in a conversation from the start. Recognize and identify the divergent expectations, and then hone in on the common goals and points of consensus, to identify outcomes and measurements that

1) validate the significant investments of funding organizations,

2) bring much needed community resources to districts (and other educational partners, as appropriate) that authentically support the strategic plans and initiatives of these districts, and

3) most naturally align to the respective mission(s) of the organizations providing the services.

As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. Identifying shared outcomes and measurements can only make for strengthened collaborations, and more effective social and cultural impact among our respective communities.

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