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So, how is it that June 7th can turn into June 21st? I mean crazy…it is summer. I’m blaming it on the South Carolina heat! Sorry for the absence, but a much needed break took over. I will however be continuing my thoughts this week about contracting talks. I’m back!
So, after talking about being clear and explicit about what is needed when you are initializing contracts I move toward something a little less clear. That is the scope of the work. Sometimes, in fact many times, when I enter into a contract I identify what looks as if will be the focus of the work but when I get “inside” the project or “on the ground” so to speak it looks completely different. What to do then? Well, if you allowed for this while having your initial contracting conversations then you are free to move about a bit. This is what I want you to always do. The reality is that we never know precisely what the work will look like until we get into it. The longer we are in practice, the more direct sense we may have of what is a most likely scenario, but can’t know for sure until operating in the project parameters.
How then do you discuss with a client that you know what they need to pay you, and you think you know what the work will look like, but you might be wrong without looking like a complete idiot? Well…finesse. What you do, is keep handy concrete examples of other projects that began one way, but ended another…all the while serving the clients needs. Some of the changes in direction even enhanced or improved upon the initial concept proposal…definitely use those in these next contract talks. If clients see that you really have positive experiences that have emerged from unknown but necessary changes it reduces anxiety and quite honestly makes you look less foolish. So, my thought for the day is that there are ways to be vague and ask for leeway, but not sound like you just have no clue what you are doing. Good evaluation is living and breathing and therefore it is a good evaluator’s task to create a living breathing contract that will allow the project to be properly and effectively evaluated. Have a great week everyone.
So I said this week’s thoughts are about building sustainability into the work we do, both the evaluation work and the programs themselves. It feels strange to walk into the first day of a project, a friendship, a relationship, thinking about how it is going to last? I mean we don’t even know if the program is a good one yet, the friend might be a jerk, and we could go on and on about the romantic relationships not working like we’d hoped, but what seems to rise up from my work is that if, maybe, the program is good, the friend is nice, and the personal relationship is a winner if some sustainability structures haven’t been put in place at the end of the project it tapers off.
So, how do we plan for the future while thoroughly enjoying, and for those of us who are evaluators investigating every aspect so that we can properly document how the program functioned and speak to outcomes, the present? It seems so contrite to be studying something that you may find out doesn’t work but at the same time planning for its continuity just in case it does. But, that is what we must do if we are going to ensure that all of our successful programs remain. I would venture to say this is also the case with friendships and personal relationships. So, how do we do this?
I would say that we use our evaluator eye to be noting (and here’s my social work background coming in) all the strengths of a project as they are occurring. We can often, as evaluators get caught up with noting what isn’t working so well, so that we can offer help to repair or course correct, much needed, but it overlooks potential sustainability structures. So, set about looking, quite intentionally, at those functions in the programs, among the staff, etc. that are really working well, make note of them. You could even create a “Sustainability Asset List” with all of these and then at the program end, provided they get the official “thumbs up” on effectiveness then they have something from which to work forward. This would equally apply to friendships and personal relationships, however the evaluator eye should be thrown out the window!! Don’t go into friendships looking for what’s not working so you can repair it or even worse, into personal relationships with that eye…destruction is near if you do! Go into these more personal areas with the sole focus on the strengths and then let the person show you what the flaws are, they will have to be big and noteworthy because you will be so focused on what the good connections are. That my friends is how to work, evaluate, and live for sustainability in programming and relationships. Think about it.
So once again, this week has consumed me, apologies on missing yesterday…as I close out the week on Performance Management I offer something to think about over the weekend. I want to harken back a couple of weeks ago when I asked everyone to take a moment to think. One of the main things I’ve dealt with over the years as a program evaluator is the lack of use of research and evidence based practices in programming at the micro level. I sat, yet again, yesterday in a meeting where a wonderful program that provides services for homeless families said “we just do the best we can with our teen program” and “there’s no real formal programming we use for it”. Well, why not? In a town with a major state university as well as many other smaller colleges why is research not reaching the ground? The only answer I can come up with is that there is a gap between those who are doing the work on the ground and those who are doing the research. We know this, and have known this forever. I mentioned earlier Dr. Abraham Wandersman who is a professor at USC who specializes in this very issue. Crossing the gap and carrying a suitcase or two of best practices to those on the ground so to speak.
What I saw yesterday is that there is not dedicated time, energy, or especially money to the use of evidence to run programs. In the economic condition we are currently in, there is no room for error, no room for programs to just be “doing the best they can”. There must be research behind all that is happening. How? I go back to my take 20 minutes and think. If you are a program person please take 20 minutes today and select one area of your programming, look for what is called “evidence based or best practices” in that area. Google it, search large storehouses such as the Harvard Family Research Project, and find an article or two about your particular area. Read it and see how you can improve something today. It just takes a little reading to learn something new and if you are reading the right things so to speak it can change things tremendously.
Now, putting what you learn into practice is a whole other ball of wax so to speak…one that you can look forward to reading about next week as I report from Seattle at a national Strengthening Families United meetings. I will be with five other sites around the country talking about how we all “implemented” a Strengthening Families model by way of United Way’s perspective and practices. Will keep you all posted…have a great weekend.
To keep in line with the thoughts of the week I offer today a piece of the Getting to Outcomes framework I mentioned yesterday. But, I am offering it as more a lifelong lesson rather than a single activity to be performed once or even twice during program implementation. As evaluators, I see our role as that of enhancing program activities wherever we can. What good does it do someone or an agency if we simply tell them that what they did worked or didn’t work? The value lies in the learning. Learning from what worked well and learning from what didn’t work so well. Today I’m asking all my readers to consider some CQI, both personally and professionally. We all may be good at some things and some are good at many things, but all of us have spaces in our lives that could use a little improvement.
As part of the performance management series of thoughts I appeal to everyone both professionally and personally to pick an area of your life or work and do some quality improvement. I have a colleague who is in the Ph.D. program with me who uses the phrase quality enhancing sustainable life and she even has a checklist to see if she is making choices for her life that are quality enhancing and/or sustainable. That is her continuous quality improvement. I am always looking at ways to improve my practice as an evaluator, attending workshops, conferences, even local talks or a journal or magazine article can be highly informative and offer a new perspective on what seems very mundane. I think the underlying key to good CQI is spirit of learning. A genuine belief that learning is lifelong and that there is always a way to do what we do better.
Find something that you do today that you can do better!!
Okay, so this week is supposed to be on leadership, but I had a surprising conversation last night that has turned my attention a bit. So there is this mass of people who genuinely think that people are poor in our country because they are lazy, or don’t want to work, or even worse, because they’d rather receive payments from our government than actually be productive citizens. So, this conversation got me to thinking about what type of leader can actually convince these people that everyone wants value, everyone wants to have something they do in this life that is meaningful. No one really wants to wake up everyday and feel worthless. I’m not sure what type of leadership skills that takes. I sat there for nearly 2 hours with someone who genuinely wants to make a difference in his own part of the world, and has the resources to do so, but has a fundamentally flawed perspective of those he is “helping”. How do we in the social service sector talk about our clients? Consider that today. Do you find yourself saying “us” and “them”? We say cliche things like “it takes a village”, but do we really want to be a part of that village? Or do we just want to write a check and make it all go away? This conversation has reminded me of who I am and what I do, thank you for doing that. Just because I spend my time doing program evaluation for non-profits doesn’t mean that I am not living a philosophy. What is the philosophy that you are living? Forgive the ranting…will get back on task with leadership tomorrow.