January 2015 Newsletter

How Linking Strategy to Theory of Change Built A Stronger Organization

Several years ago, a social justice organization in an underserved low-income community solicited significant stakeholder input and developed a strategic plan that laid out a bold vision and broad goals for long-term positive social change. The planning team did not create an implementation plan to operationalize its ambitious goals, however.

A few years later, a funder offered the group an opportunity to work with a facilitator to develop a theory of change (TOC) and program logic models. At first, the $2 million group’s long-time executive director felt that such planning would help one department plan a new program. But she quickly realized that crafting an organization-wide TOC might lead to strategies for responding to pressing management challenges. Among them, she suspected that an agency-wide TOC could:
* Clarify the steps the organization needs to take to realize their strategic plan’s aspirations of community impact;
* Promote shared vision and values among managers and other staff; and
* Facilitate communications about how the organization’s many services and programs serve a common end.

Over several months, the Management Team created a theory of change and logic models based on their strategic plan’s long-term vision. The results were impressive. All of the director’s initial goals were realized, as were important, unexpected benefits. Read more

Need to Conduct A Literature Review?

If you’re like me, you may be wondering how donors and funders, with the same breath, can emphasize innovation AND the importance of using Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) to improve conditions in your communities. These concepts appear contradictory. Where is the room for flexibility and innovation in EBP interventions, which by definition, are based on years of rigorous evaluation of a specific program model? What if you’re an impatient startup that wants to “prototype” new solutions to old social problems and are willing to “fail fast” to learn the potent lessons from real-world experiences and try something else?

Sonoma County Upstream Investments has been mindful about this dilemma facing social programs in its area. In my October e-letter, I mentioned that I was working with a nonprofit to apply to Upstream for listing on its website of EBPs. Based on a thorough review of a demanding application, the Upstream Portfolio classifies prevention-focused social programs into three tiers.

The region’s funders and donors rely on Upstream’s to help them discern which programs have been proven to be effective (Upstream’s Tier 1), which programs show preliminary evidence of effectiveness (Tier 2, Promising Practices) and which programs contain elements of EBPs but are not based solely on proven interventions (Tier 3, Innovative Practices). I’m helping an innovative gang prevention program apply for inclusion on Upstream’s Tier 3 Portfolio.