Category Archives: Programs

2021 Top 7 Resolutions for Researching, Reporting and Evaluating

After doing 35 Assessments, 18 Evaluations, 47 Organization/Operation Development Projects and authoring 2 books, I have learned a few things about doing research and analysis and preparing reports/documentation. I share some of those lesson in the 2021 edition of my Top 7 Resolutions for Researching, Reporting and Evaluating

  1. Use strong language.  Carried over from 2020 When you write a report or a grant application don’t be afraid to use strong and powerful words.   Strong words convey confidence, ability and the promise of meaningful outcomes.  The tendency of most people writing reports and grant applications is to use eloquence instead of directness.  But in this situation eloquence is not as convincing.  Here are some examples of strong words: provide, demonstrate, increase, and eliminate.  And those words are stronger if you do not temper them with words that increase their eloquence, but do not add to the impact, for instance:  Instead of will attempt to, just use will, instead of plan to collect, say will collectUsing strong direct wording will reduce the number of words, which leads us to Resolution #2.
  • Don’t be too wordy.  Carried over from 2020 Too many words can be perceived as propping up a lame idea or program; that is provided your audience actually spends the time reading all of your words.  Normally a grant application, a report, or a person’s willingness to read limits the number of words you can use.  Funders and readers want the writer to be succinct.  Weak wording results in excess words.  Using too many words in a grant application make you seem hesitant or unsure of the effort/organization for which you seek funding.  Wordiness in a report will cause it to not be read.  People are used to immediacy, so they want to get the picture you are presenting in a small amount of words and time.  If you use strong words (see Resolution #1) you are much less likely be too wordy.
  • Don’t make your staff or consultant beg.  If you have tasked someone (staff or consultant) with preparing a grant application, funding request or report, don’t make them beg or nag you to do your part.  Your part may be small (i.e. send an email encouraging survey participation or provide some data) and it may not be high on your To Do List (your real job takes precedent).  However, if you do not do your assignments you jeopardize the project.  You also frustrate your staff/consultant and frustrated people do not do their best work.    
  • Pay attention to your audience/recipient.   I do not like sweet iced tea (even though I am Southern born and bred).  I used to love Dr. Pepper (aging esophagus made me give up carbonated drinks).  I still vividly remember ordering a Dr. Pepper at a sub shop and getting a sweet iced tea instead.  As I walked out the door of the sub shop, I took a big swig of my drink and promptly spit it out on the ground.  When you are expecting one taste and you get a different taste it confuses your brain.  And when it is something you do not like, it is even worse.  To get what I wanted, and importantly what I asked for, I had to go back into the shop, stand in line and get my originally requested drink.  The experience figuratively and literally left a bad taste in my mouth.  This is a lesson in how the audience/recipient feels about you when you do not give them what they want and what they probably spelled out in the guidelines or instructions.
  • Put everything in writing.  Circumstances change, people leave and priorities shift.  Your goal or requirement, though, must still be met.  In order to allow for changes and still accomplish your objective, put all agreements in writing and be specific.  With partners, spell out what you will do and what they will do in an agreement and put dates/timelines in; be sure it is signed by someone who has the authority to commit.  With staff provide documented expectations.  If you hire a consultant use a contract that stipulates responsibility and provides protection for proprietary information.  Don’t be afraid to ask funders to put things in writing and be specific; sometimes the excitement of getting funding overrides good sense and details do not get ironed out and documented.  Putting things in writing applies to everyone – long-term partners, community leaders, friends and even family.
  • Don’t bite off something that will choke you.  Carried over from 2020  Be careful that you don’t chase money (grant, sale, project) that has requirements attached to it that will take you away from your goals or primary purpose.  Avoid funding/projects that force you to do things that will cost you more time and/or money than it’s worth.  Do not try to make your round peg fit into the funder’s or client’s square hole.  This is even more important now because the landscape for non-profits and small businesses has changed drastically during the 2020 pandemic.  You will be more tempted to go against your own good sense. Don’t!  Try to keep this past year and its challenges in perspective and not focus on the sprint, but on the whole marathon.
  • Concentrate on the quality not the effort.   When you compliment or thank your staff/consultant on the work they are doing or have done, concentrate on the quality of their work, not on how hard they worked.  There are two reasons for this.  If you focus on how hard they worked you may be signifying that you value effort over outcome.  That is a dangerous philosophy.  It could indicate that you are not distinguishing between activities and outcomes.  In order to succeed and sustain, you must be able to identify outcomes and measure progress toward them.  Secondly, if a consultant or staff member is good at what they do, they will appreciate you recognizing the quality of their work.  If they want you to notice how hard they work, chances are they are concentrating on the wrong things and they are costing you money.

Outcomes Are Actually Evidence

In working with non-profits and agencies the struggle I see most is in understanding Outcomes and including them in planning and the quest for funding. Somehow Outcomes have become confused with activities. But the actuality is that Outcomes are evidence that activities have caused a change and/or difference. Outcomes, or evidence, are very personal to a program, organization or mission; however, there are some commonalities.

Looking at how evidence is used by others will help with the understanding.

  • Law Enforcement must have evidence before they can arrest someone. And that evidence must prove that the person being arrested did commit the crime.
  • The courts must have evidence before they can find someone guilty. The evidence must be strong enough to remove reasonable doubt.
  • The military must have evidence that a target is justifiable before they attack.
  • A drug company must have evidence that a medication will have a positive impact on a disease before they can distribute it.
  • A healthcare provider must have evidence that a patient will benefit from a treatment before they proceed with a medication, surgery or other procedure.
  • A football official must see indisputable evidence to overturn a ruling on the field.

All of the above know the necessary evidence before they proceed. They see the needed outcome and determine what evidence will prove that the outcome has been realized. And they are often governed by rules or practices of their profession.

So an effective method for non-profits and agencies to know if they are dealing with Outcomes instead of activities is to ask the following questions about the Outcomes they put in their plans and strategies.

  1. Will there be enough evidence of change and positivity for me to be arrested? What is the change? How will I measure it so that the proof is obvious?
  2. Would a court find me guilty of impacting the people, place or thing that I planned to impact? Will I be able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt and beyond a list of activities?
  3. Will my client be better because of my program or mission? Will I be able to gather the statistical proof that the cure was effective, not just record the number of people that were offered the cure?
  4. Will my funders and board members believe that a change or impact was made? Do I understand the evidence they need to be convinced?

As I often do in articles, blog posts and consultations, I will once again close with the advice to Start with the ending when planning and seeking funding.

Role of Cultural Pageantry and Tradition in Improving People’s Lives

On a recent vacation that included visits to several sports museums I gained a new appreciation for the human need for pageantry and tradition and the purposes they fulfill.

My husband and I visited the Indianapolis 500 Museum and heard all about the history and importance of the winner drinking milk and kissing the bricks.  We even kissed the bricks.  (Full disclosure I got my lips really close to the bricks, but they did not actually touch the bricks.)

At the Kentucky Derby Museum we learned about the ceremonial mounting of the horses, the Derby Hats and the garland of roses given to the winner.  At the Louisville Slugger Museum, I was reminded of the many traditions and ceremonial rituals used by teams and individuals.

All these sports pageantry and tradition activities got me to thinking about others such as Christmas Parades, Beauty Pageants, Easter Bonnets & Finery, etc., etc., etc.  We humans do love pageantry and tradition and ceremony.  If you ever doubt it, try changing a tradition.  For instance one Indy 500 winner decided that since he was part owner in an orange juice company he would drink orange juice instead of milk in the winner’s circle.  According to our tour guide the public watching in horror almost rioted.  To this day, people boo when that driver’s name is mentioned at the Indy Speedway and many other places.

One of the reasons the importance of pageantry, traditions and ceremonies was in my mind so strongly was because of the work I am doing and have done recently with organizations that are trying to help people break unhealthy and confining behaviors and beliefs.   I see programs, grants, events and books addressing things that keep people from being healthy and improving their life.  And as I do evaluations and help people do reporting, I see that the changes, if they come at all, are slow and agonizing.

Could it be that people hold on to traditions and find comfort in pageantry because the continued acceptance and honoring of them provides its own sense of security.  Anyone who has ever attempted to help people understands that change is scary.  The tightness with which people hold on to pageantry and traditions not only illustrates that change is scary, it actually emphasizes the fear.

When I look back at all the programs and efforts I have helped develop, assess, evaluate and report on, I see that the most successful ones embraced the culture of the group that was the target of the help.  The successes and improvements came faster, more often and were sustained when the helping entity showed those being helped how they could improve, but not totally abandon their cultures and the accompanying pageantry and traditions.

When you think about, pageantry and traditions evolve on their own as people and cultures evolve.  The Indy 500 milk drinking tradition again provides an example.  The original milk drinking winner actually drank buttermilk.  It seems that he had grown up drinking buttermilk to refresh himself after working hard in the fields.  So, after he was pretty worn out from driving 500 miles at 100+ miles per hour, he wanted a cold glass of buttermilk.  Today, Indy 500 winners still drink milk, but it has evolved away from buttermilk, since not everyone likes the sour taste.  So any milk is now acceptable, but orange juice is not – evolution accepted, revolution rejected.

So, this causes me to conclude that successful programs and efforts will always need to:

  • Recognize the culture and its pageantry and traditions of the people they are trying to help.
  • Facilitate the ability of the people they are trying to help to honor and observe the security of their culture’s pageantry and traditions.
  • Build in space and time for digression caused by fear of change.
  • Allow the evolution of the pageantry and traditions, instead of ignoring or crushing them.

 

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