Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the fourth in a series of updates about Eagle Rock’s strategic plan — Vision 2020. Below, Michael Soguero, our director of professional development, provides the Eagle Rock community with an update on our efforts related to the plan’s fifth domain: National Contribution. If you’re interested in learning about the overall aim of the plan, please see News From The Rock: Vision 2020.
When it comes to Eagle Rock’s strategic plan, that part of the document that falls under the National Contribution section, speaks to our nation’s high schools as high-functioning centers of engagement and learning, and our own role in helping make that vision a reality. As a result, we’re continuing to articulate our notion of national impact and to refine our approach in support of that outcome.
While exploring this concept, we have found many nonprofits make one of two mistakes while attempting to do good works:
- They either focus on performing a number of activities — counting the activities themselves as a success; or
- They assess satisfaction with the activity as a measure of success.
Problems arise when schools put on workshops, send their personnel to speak at conferences or hold events — all of which are well received — but with little sense as to whether there is an impact on the community issue they were addressing. The other mistake goes in the opposite direction. The organization will put a stake in the ground around some large social condition such as teen crime, poverty or the environment, not realizing how little impact one isolated group can have on solving such complex issues.
What you end up with are organizations that are either declaring victory with small programmatic events, or excessively touting influence with a social condition that actually requires many allies contributing to the issues just to move the needle.
Eagle Rock is charged with having a positive impact on high school engagement nationally. Our strategy includes operating a school that serves students who are mostly underserved by a traditional approach to education. We’re also tasked with running a professional development center that supports high schools around the country to improve school engagement.
There have been many updates on the Eagle Rock Blog describing our philosophy, strategy/approaches and activities/tactics. Our strategic plan — Vision 2020 — calls for greater clarity for how all these elements work together to have impact in the school engagement mission. Following that, we must audit our practices so they are in alignment with the Theory of Action and the Theory of Change.
In my role as Eagle Rock’s director of professional development, I have studied a number of different frameworks for assessing impact. From each, as you’ll read below, I have selected certain concepts and am experimenting with the unique combination — or mashup — of these to apply to our national mission and to evaluate our work with regard to that part of our strategic plan calling for us to make a national contribution. Beneath each framework below, I describe the concept I have taken from that particular school of thought and how it applies to our national work and progress forward.
Outcome Mapping: Within outcome mapping — a methodology for planning and assessing development programming that is oriented towards change and social transformation — is the concept of boundary partners. Boundary Partners are those individuals, groups, or organizations with whom the program (in this case, Eagle Rock) interacts directly and with whom the program can anticipate opportunities for. Boundary partners are helpful in narrowing down the effect we at Eagle Rock are claiming to influence or produce. For example, if we were helping a school in Vermont implement project-based learning, we would look at the individuals with whom we have direct interaction during our engagements. If we only work with school leaders (our boundary partner) then the change we are supporting is framed in terms of behavioral changes among those school leaders. But if we also have interaction with the teachers, then we would look to changes in their behaviors consistent with what the school desires. (For more on this methodology, please visit http://www.OutcomeMapping.ca.)
Results-based Accountability: As mentioned earlier, there is a distinction between assessing the value of our activities (i.e., delivering a workshop to a school and surveying for satisfaction) and assessing whether we are making a difference in a larger social condition (i.e., engagement improves for high school students). The first is a measure of program performance, while the second is a population measure. Similar to the concept of boundary partners, Result-based Accountability helps us focus on where we have influence, while at the same time acknowledging we are a player in a larger social issue. (For more on this way of thinking, please read What is Results-Based Accountability?)
Collective Impact: The entire framework of collective impact calls for an aligned set of activities among different organizations to achieve a population-measure effect. The alignment and coordination elements of collective impact have been helpful in conversations with Eagle Rock’s partners. Possibilities may emerge, such as recognizing we are a contributor within a collective impact project. For example, we recently worked with the mayor’s office in Santa Fe, N.M., to increase youth voice in education issues (the Santa Fe Community Foundation coordinated that work). Or we could coordinate such a project ourselves, bringing together different organizations. Another example: Recent work in Austin, Tex., brought us together with venture capitalists, small private and charter schools, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Austin Independent School District to explore the possibility of organizing different players in the field of bringing entrepreneurial education into the public school system. (For more on the Collective Impact framework, please visit: http://www.collaborationforimpact.com.)
Improvement Science: Improvement science has introduced us to the many principles for enacting effective change. One of the concepts we have adopted is that of specific, measurable commitments. For this, we must have the people and resources on hand and in synch in order to accomplish our goals. In addition, we must be in accord with the definition of the population with whom we are targeting. In short, improvement science answers the question of what are we trying to accomplish. (For more information, please read what the Carnegie Foundation has to say about Improvement Science.)
As you can see, we have plenty of work ahead in order to establish a coherent framework for Eagle Rock’s impact measures, especially as it relates to that part of our strategic plan that envisions this country’s high schools as high-functioning centers of engagement and learning, supported in-part by our work in accelerating school improvement and supporting the implementation of engaging practices that foster each students’ unique potential. We will continue prototyping the use of the concepts mentioned above, and we are reflecting regularly on what we are learning from the test of them. Going forward, we will continue to study how this all affects our strategic activities and report back when we have new information to share.
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About the Author: Michael Soguero is the director of professional development at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo. There, he is primarily responsible for developing strategy that positively affects public education throughout the United States.