Instead of hitting the tropics, this February I travelled to Toronto for the 6th Annual Evaluating Community Impact conference hosted by the Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement. Tamarack is well known for their work as backbone organization in the Vibrant Communities Initiative, using the Collective Impact framework to reduce poverty across Canada. (Read the case study here and check out the program evaluation here.)
140 participants descended on Toronto from communities across North America. We spent three days together forming a learning community and taking a deep dive into current thinking and practices about measuring the impact of community initiatives.
Throughout the conference I thought about our work in Vermont and our journey to become a culture of accountability. I made links to our experience with Results-Based Accountability and have boiled down my big takeaway moments to share with you here.
Top Four Takeaways:
1. When using RBA, start with the Population Level! This is where we make our theory of change explicit and unearth underlying assumptions of our group. Performance level is important too - but for creating real change in complex social issues we've got to think bigger than our own individual organizations and programs. Knowing where we're going helps us effectively evaluate our journey.
2. There's more to life and data than endless surveys. Don't forget about the power of qualitative data, and pull useful ideas from existing evaluative tools. Think about how stories can help you unearth the real impact of your efforts, and check out some ways to use stories as data. Here's my favorite list of tools to explore: http://betterevaluation.org/approaches
3. "Nothing about us without us." Involve the population you seek to serve at all levels of program planning, implementation, and evaluation. No one has better insight into what works for change than people with firsthand experience. You might even find that your initiative has had unintended positive impacts.
4. Create evaluations and systems that are useful. Before you start evaluating, determine the primary audience and user of your evaluation. What information is needed? How will it be digested? When will it be useful? Here in Vermont we often use Results-Based Accountability for ongoing, internal organizational learning. Being clear about our intentions from the outset can help us determine if we are overlooking the collection of data that we might need for communication to our funders or other stakeholders.
Every time I travel I am struck by just how forward-thinking Vermont has been about accountability issues. If anyone has additional insights or perspectives to share with the accountability community, please let me know!
Conference participants pose in front of the Tamarack "Learning Wall." Throughout the conference individuals captured their learning, questions, thoughts and quotes on the wall.
Hillary Boone, MSM is Program Manager at Benchmarks for a Better Vermont (BBVT), an initiative led by Marlboro College to integrate performance measurement systems in mission-driven organizations. Hillary has trained and coached organizations across New England in the use of Results-Based Accountability (RBA). As former Program Director at the Milton Community Youth Coalition, Hillary used RBA to lead a community group to improve walkability, bike ability and access to healthy foods. Hillary has presented her work with BBVT nationally and internationally.
In her community of Burlington, Vermont Hillary serves in leadership roles on the board of the Pride Center of Vermont, the Milton Mentor Advisory Committee, and the Divas Do Good initiative.