by Aine McGlynn
At the end of November the Community Foundations of Canada hosted a three day Open Data and Evaluation extravaganza called Community Knowledge Exchange. One participant I spoke to, an evaluator by profession, said to me “this is really a conference about evaluation, but they were smart not to refer to is as such, otherwise half the people in attendance wouldn’t have shown up”. And she was absolutely correct. There is nothing inherently sexy about evaluation or impact reporting, but the organizers (massive kudos to Lee Rose and the CFC team) managed to whip off data’s nerd glasses and dress him up in a well-tailored suit.
Joeri van den Steenhoven’s opening plenary was super-useful. He revealed the Periodic Table of Systems Change and spoke about the need for creating urgency and pairing it with seduction, This is a great strategy for moving beyond preaching to the choir (the 2-5% of your organization who are innovators) to reassuring the early adopters (15%) and incentivising the early majority (33%).
- Systems change is motivated by the twin pillars of urgency and seduction
- Measure any given effort’s impact by how well it identifies and acts on the leverage points in a system
- Collaborating on measurement efforts will avoid duplication of effort, reduce the burden of reporting, and evaluate impact on a collective scale.
And picked up on 3 accompanying strategies that were being proposed:
- Get better at telling and sharing stories - these are the articles, the images, the visualizations that motivate and convince the majority. When it comes to funding and popular support for systems change, the majority must be on-side.
- Improve the way that your organization collects and evaluates data.
- Funders and legislators must work towards collective measurement practices and open up their data.
Fabulous ways to frame the conversation, don’t you think? I’m super interested to see how CKX continues to build on the energy from the conference and how the participants are going to begin to get busy implementing some tactics to support these strategies. From our perspective working with the small to medium sized charities (who make up the vast majority of the core charitable sector) we have identified a couple of areas and questions that we’d like to contribute to the conversation that is emerging about open data and impact reporting.
- The conversation about impact must take into account both the front and the backend of an organization’s operations. If you’re only measuring outcomes and not being thoughtful about the effort required to produce those outcomes you are only seeing half the picture (as Michael Hobbes pointed out recently in The New Republic). How onerous is reporting for your organization? Is it a once a year herculean effort or are you able to measure continually throughout the year?
- When it comes to collecting, evaluating and sharing data seamlessly and in real-time, most organizations are not sure where to even begin. Through Timeraiser+ we are supporting organizations in their efforts to understand what they don’t know. Funders cannot begin to fund open-data and impact reporting requests for support when organizations don’t yet know what to ask for.
- What would open philanthropy look like? Don Tapscott talked about open cities, open energy, open science, open government, open transit etc... How can we, as a sector, get better at sharing goals, game plans and results? Would this lead to more collaboration? How are funders working to streamline reporting processes, collectively determine impact metrics and provide resources for grantees who are struggling with sharing information?