A few days ago I got an inquiry from a manager of one of the growing community programs in Central Alberta. She inquired about evaluation and how they should go about it.
One of the things I noticed is that from all the other networks that I have traveled is that she is the only one who had the courage to inquire about evaluation as one of the elements of her program development. The word “evaluation” conjures feelings of fear of being found out that they have failed, fear of being found out that their work is insufficient, just plain fear.
It is a normal feeling but evaluation is a standard program requirement these days. And the “no money, we are a non-profit” doesn’t work too. Don’t use these excuses to know about this important topic. The initiative to know is why good managers stand out from the crowd.
The question is how you are going to deal with the “you don’t know what you don’t know” challenge.
· The first thing is to do is to ask the right questions and acknowledge that you don’t know anything about it. Organizations refuse to seek outside help because they want to keep their independence but there are no resources internally that can actually provide enough momentum for the kind of change/result they want to see. Staying independent but not knowing what to do is not the smartest move.
· The second thing is to seek experts and people and organizations who have done it before and learn from their success or failure. Look around your sector and talk to organizations that are in better shape in this area and learn how they came to be. You do not have to reinvent the wheel.
· The third thing is to seek ways to get a beginners knowledge and understanding that will propel you to commit to small actions that are building blocks for something greater in the long-run. It is about being a champion or an initiator in your office. Tell your boss that you want to improve your program development skills and get the best practice in results-orientation out there. It will help your organization move incrementally as you seek to be enlightened and later champion progress in this area.
An inquiring mind is a good start. The more you learn about something new, the more you can begin to see its value and usefulness in your organization. Take small steps and you will never regret it.
Most companies, businesses, non-profit organizations see the competition- the organization across the street with the same offering and think that it’s their worst enemy.
It’s not. A coffee house mushroomed in one street is a reflection of actual buyer/consumer interests. That means that there is a demand and continuing demand that needed to be satisfied. Take the cue from the competition that is very successful.
The competition will show you what is selling or not, what the market wants versus what you are offering. The competition will tell you that your services, products, or values are not well-articulated. It will tell you why you need to expand or contract or seek new markets. The competition that is doing well will tell you what practices work and what practices to abandon. What areas are not being serviced, what gaps in customer needs are not being met and what positioning can be done?
A good competition is a good source of information about what is coming around the bend, anticipating that changes can disrupt your business in many ways and that being a bystander of these changes will do you no good. You might be disrupted even before you know it.
Take the case of Uber that has disrupted the taxi cab businesses that have been there for generations. It has created a whole new sharing economy around the needs and interests of consumers who are also users and producers of these services. Do not be the taxicab operator that just woke up one day with a business valuation of less than $200,000.00!
Big box businesses have folded/ are folding up such as Sears, ToysRUs, Greyhound is discontinuing its operations except for Ontario and Quebec, and recently Macy’s might be next in line. These businesses have weathered many storms and remained very strong contenders in the retail market and transport market for years and years. Sears started with a catalog market and became one of the best-preferred retailers for middle-class buyers. Not anymore.
While the middle-class-targeted retailers are folding up, lower buyer segment markets are generating newer and more stores such as Red Apple and Giant Tiger are taking up empty retail space that has been vacated. There is always an opportunity if you can look closer at the changes that are taking place.
Innovation is the stuff that we strut about but rarely understand. It is not a magical moment where executives of Apple just figured it out today. It is a methodical, integrated, and disciplined approach to finding opportunities, studying opportunities for its potentials and risks, and pursuing opportunities to take the business to the next level of competitiveness and profitability.
Is your business merely surviving, beating up the competition, or dominating the space? Do not sacrifice the future of your company in the altar of today’s successes. Learn from the competition and innovate continuously.
Diaspora, immigrant communities, global travellers and citizens offer more than global stories and exciting exotic foods-they hold several assets that needed to be maximized. Cultural knowledge, international perspectives, remittance, know-how, linguistic fluency, heritage, connections. These are some of the links that needed to be made in the minds of decision makers, executives, planners, leaders, and doers.
In this day and age, the local is global and the global is local. People that are comfortable with the binary of either local or global is obviously missing the whole point. It is the same people demanding a practitioner to either specialize or die. I would say specialize and die!
Here are some of the pointers to bring full circle the wealth of international and intercultural assets found in the diaspora/ immigrant/ and international/global citizens.
1. Companies, organizations, and governments are beginning to reflect the diversity found in the population, consumers, employee base, and their neighborhoods. This brings back to the question- the global is local and the local is global. It is no longer a foreign idea to seek out global talent from the pool that is right in your backyard at the same time look for global ideas to enhance your local situation.
2. The global remittance should result in improved lives of families working overseas and the kinds of infrastructure, support and growth opportunities should reflect that in each country.
3. The bridge between the new country and the old country must give way to a fluid interconnectivity that is not alien but an inherent identity of the immigrant community. Our sense of nationalism comes from our sense of humanity. Regardless of whether we have strong clear ties to another nation, the same ills, sets of problems and issues beset other places, and there is more reason to collaborate than to compete for competition’s sake!
4. Companies with global reach across the world cannot afford to alienate local cultural characteristics that made each country, region, cultural group, tribe, and community different and unique. McDonald's with the global franchise can afford to culturally adapt to the local taste in order to compete with the local favorite. Cultural intelligence is a pre-requisite for a successful business internationally.
5. It is time for globally trained people to push back and be proud of where they come from, the countries and locations they worked, the things that they have seen and experienced, the cultures they have tasted, learned, and imbibed. This sets them apart from the competition. Do not forget your assets and relegate it to lower import just because you have moved to a new country and wanted to assimilate and not appear different- be proud about it.
The next generation of jobs and employment and careers for the near future are those that cannot be done by robots and artificial intelligence. Are you honing that intercultural, international, and global expertise and talents that you possess? Bring it out and dominate your field.
One of the things that are beginning to be present in many development efforts is the interest, capacity, and commitment to experiment with what works in the field. Today, design thinking, neuroscience approach to changing behaviors and fostering sustainable change, and the newest innovation in block chain has opened the doors for conversations around what we can borrow in other sectors, industries, and other disciplines that complement the role played by experiential and participatory, people-centered technologies.
Instead of focusing on problems and needs, these thinking revolve around solutions and takes into account the experience of end users of solution-based interventions. Rapid feedback from users engenders a series of testing that encompass the process of finding the most optimal products and services for the target users. Instead of using the traditional monitoring and evaluation, the feedback to market approach is a sure way to validate and test assumptions immediately with fewer costs and less time. The traditional development approaches have become archaic and ineffective in most of these cases.
The obvious path of using best practice from elsewhere may not be useful in many contexts. Best practice internally is the better best practice. Demonstrate where is the best practice and who are already doing it in the organization or community and magnify it for the others to emulate. That works more than imposing an alien idea or concept or model of thinking to people that have no clue as to its origins and benefits.
What to look for when using a borrowed idea?
1. Check the origins, benefits, and contextual usage. This may not fit in many contexts and situations. Is there an indigenous idea or concept that can be used instead? Are these ideas stem from a larger systems thinking or a product of innovation from other disciplines that complement existing knowledge systems?
2. How will it be embraced politically, socially, intellectually and culturally?
3. Budget the time and training costs of training people to the idea. It takes time before an approach is integrated in an organization more less in a community context. Look for advocates and champions.
4. Who are the resistors and what are the reasons for resisting? Look for underlying reasons and needs of people. Always, there is an organizational and personal objections. Find these out.
5. Reinforce new learned behavior and thinking with incentives and practical application consistently.
6. Always prepare for social proofing. That the idea has been tested, proven to work, and cost less than most of its contemporaries. Social proofing is the lubricant to cement community buy-in from leaders and early adopters.
More on these for sure. What are your thoughts for ideas borrowed and taken to new meanings and applications in development sector?
When we fail in our organizations, companies, and as individuals, there is a tendency to hide it as it is embarrassing, deflating, and ultimately hurts the ego. But if this not a life and death situation, or flying in a commercial plane, or undertaking a heart surgery, failures should be instructive.
Failure should enable us to see that it did not work and learn from it in a constructive way. Instead of assigning blame, firing employees or suppliers, or doing a drastic action, it is important to get the key lessons and move on.
In international development and community development, there are tons of mistakes and clear failures that have been made. Some organizations are open about it like coffee houses that are open to anyone who would like a nice coffee. Some organizations have put in under the rug and kept quiet because of fear that if funders and donors would find out, they are dead ducks.
But to be honest with you, this is an extreme situation. The lack of funders support is not about that you have made a mistake or failed in the projects funded, it's because either it is an unwinnable pursuit in the face of evidence in the first place, or second because of unethical, dishonest, and other practices that prove misaligned to their fundamental principles and values.
Great funders do not pull out because of failures. They actually encourage experimentation and creative problem-solving.
It is important that lessons learned are encouraged including great failures and mistakes. What happens in many conversations and roundtables is that, they pat each other in the back that everything is going well, but, these are rarely genuine conversations. No one wants to be vulnerable and to be put on the spot on issues that might affect their public image or reputation.
What happened is that people discuss what works and did not work? These are discussions that are very much watered down and never instructive. I looked at a lot of evaluations and evaluation findings and my favorite spot is the lessons learned section. While some organizations are truly being honest about their failings and inadequacies, and laying it all bare and dry. Some have not really come up to the integrity test. Again, fear of donors not funding them again or investors going away.
When you cover and hide it, then you see it repeated in other organizations. They don’t know any better. Some of them have just started a non-profit, put up their first projects in one developing country with the advice of so and so, etc. Nobody has told them. There is no book that gives light. There were textbooks in the policies and politics of aid but there are no books on the practices that work and the basics of doing good. Conversations in the sector are more fluff than actually useful.
Like other sectors that embrace failure or integrate failure constructively in their learning and evaluation eco-systems, it is high time to put failures in their best light. As the wise adage says, the wise person is that one that learns from someone’s mistakes and doesn’t have to make it himself/herself. Let’s share our failures the way we do with our successes. Let’s make it a conversation piece next time we talk about innovation, results, and impact. Let's us help those who have just started and needed a clear -don't do these things, please! caution.
Share with us your failure and what have you learned from it?
Q: How do I figure out what group or organization to be involved with and what are good pre-requisites to have?
There are many organizations, startups, enterprises working in community and global development.
It is up to you to pick and choose which ones would lead you to you closer to your desired career, contribution or business pathway.
As I have written in the blog, Why is passion overrated? unless you have determined your interests and skills set as part of self-discovery, this is going to be an endless task.
There are no perfect organizations but a few signals about them would reveal if they are a good organization to work with either as an intern, volunteer or paid staff.
-Are they self-sustainable or are they living from one grant /donation to another? Are they downsizing or on a growth spurt? If they are having difficulty retaining staff, they are not in the best shape for sure.
-Do they have a good, dynamic, and effective Board/Trustees? Do they retain their Board for a long period of time but also get new Boards to take up new responsibilities and provide fresh insights? Both of these signal interest and continued commitment to the purposes of the organization.
-Do they take care of their staff, volunteers and their Executive Director? How is the structure of the organization convened? Do they have a non-hierarchical and flat structure or they have an overwhelming red tape that it is cumbersome to get things done on time and with less hassle? Do they value self-care and leadership development for their staff?
-Are their programs and services continuously being improved? Do you see a lot of innovation and assets-based engagement? If yes, then you will learn more from these types of organizations who are always striving to increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
-Are they a learning organization? Do they carry out studies, evaluations, and assessments about how they are impacting their constituencies? How frequently do they take a stock of their achievements and the changing environment they operate in? Are they market-oriented and future-oriented?
This is not an exhaustive list but I think you get the point. The more you look at the operational and strategic elements of the organization, the more you will understand where the organization is headed and if it's in the best health moving forward.
Large organizations do not mean they are successful and impactful and smaller organizations do not mean that they have a smaller impact.
It is not about the size but how their strategies and the resources are deployed for their intended results.
Small can be way more efficient, effective, and smart about its footprint in the world.
Big organizations have more complex systems, operations, and people to look after and develop.
Make a choice. Try working in a small organization and a big organization (one at a time) and see the difference.
In your sector, what are the elements of a good organization? Share your thoughts here.