More on Sysphus, Effectiveness and Outcomes
Posted by Allison Fine on January 8, 2010
I knew that my flame throwing yesterday about the Sisyphean efforts of foundations and nonprofits would spark some interest and was glad to see that I was right! The comments were fascinating and thoughtful. I wanted to recap some of what was said and add a few more thoughts on this now that I’ve had time for a bit more reflection.
Adin Miller and David Gielhufe counseled patience. We are just beginning this journey, they said, and groups like the Corporation for National Service and other grantmakers are making progress. As David wrote, “But we are slowly seeing consequences develop. We are slowly seeing pots of money being given out on outcome measurements.”
Marty Kearns rightly pointed out the difficulty of the stars aligning between the timeliness of grantmaking and the real-time difficult of evaluation. He wrote, “Shifts in time, needs on the ground, media cycles, costs, staff changes, political and economic winds make annual adjustments irrelevant.”
I really liked what Allison Jones had to say when she wrote, “The issue is not to measure outcomes, but do so in a way that is not disruptive or merely punitive. For example, all the hype around low overhead being a great measure of effectiveness is now being dismantled because, well, it isnt a good measure of effectiveness and for those organizations who got “bad grades” because of this kind of measurement, Im sure more harm than good was done.”
And, of course, Hildy Gottlieb, who kicked this whole conversation about challenging the notion of individual organizations assessing outcomes as opposed to communities assessing results, added this brilliant quote, “Chogyam Trungpa says, “The basic problem we seem to be facing is that we are too involved with trying to prove something, which is connected with paranoia and a feeling of poverty. When you are trying to prove or get something, you are not open anymore, you have to check everything, and you have to arrange it “correctly.” It is such a paranoid way to live and it really does not prove anything.”
So, what does it all mean? Well, for those counseling patience, I have to respectfully disagree. The revolution that was predicted twenty years ago in effectiveness and performance simply hasn’t materialized or scaled. Not only have individual foundations and nonprofits been unsuccessful (with, of course, the regular exceptions like the oft-cited Harlem Children’s Zone that come up over and again.) What we haven’t seen is performance and outcomes evaluation becoming norms of philanthropic and nonprofit behavior that one would have expected given the investment, talk, expectations raised over the years. One indicator of how little progress we’ve made is that no one even tracks how much nonprofits or foundations invest in evaluation!
But I also want to make an important point today that I don’t think I made clearly enough yesterday. Of course I believe that foundations and nonprofits should be effective. They should aim to do something beneficial for people and communities and do it well. I don’t believe that the lens and frameworks that we have used to determine how and whether that’s happening are working. It is the frames that need changing not the goals.
I would like to develop more natural systems for doing this. Processes that feel more empowering for nonprofits, systems for foundations that marry their natural desire to do good with the need to support good work. Unfortunately, I don’t know yet what those frames look like, although I do know that they involve the integration of social media into the fabric of organizations.
That’s where I am right now. Where are you?
This entry was posted on January 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm and is filed under Social Media. Tagged: Adin Miller, Allison Jones, Corporation for National Service, David Gielhuge, hildy gottlieb, Marty Kearns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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