When I think of baseball, the thought of peanuts, Cracker Jacks and umpires come to mind. On the field, players scramble to catch balls, managers track the runs and strikes and teams work together to win the game. This image of baseball doesn’t always conjure up thoughts of effective government spending, but maybe it should.
What would happen if the government played Moneyball like Oakland A’s manager, Billy Beane? He is credited for using data and computer-generated analytics rather than scout recommendations and gut instincts to create a championship baseball team during an unfavorable financial period (highlighted in the film, Moneyball). Moneyball for Government, a project by Results for America, “encourages governments at all levels to increase their use of evidence and data when investing limited taxpayer dollars.” The premise behind Moneyball for Government includes three principles:
Could the government take a lesson from baseball and increase its use of data to determine where funding should be applied? In a time of fiscal scarcity, the government has been charged with thinking of creative ways to fund programs and community efforts that have the most impact. Bipartisan leaders who have gathered in support of using data to determine what programs are funded, effectively improving the outcomes for youth, their families and communities have been termed ‘Moneyball for Government All-Stars.’ Among Moneyball for Government Non-Profit All-Stars are Jeff Edmondson, Managing Director of StriveTogether and Judy Peppler, President and CEO of KnowledgeWorks (StriveTogether is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks).
StriveTogether has been advocating for the effective use of data to improve student outcomes since its inception. At the core of StriveTogether’s approach is the commitment to use local data to determine what works for children and the courage to collectively look at that data to challenge assumptions and make improvements. In Jeff Edmondson’s TedX talk, he describes the importance organizing around outcomes, identifying indicators for the outcomes and collecting local data to determine areas of need.
Using local data to better serve kids is not foreign to members of the Cradle to Career Network either. Commit!, a cradle to career partnership and Network member in Dallas, TX uses data to help determine ‘bright spots’ and identify effective practices that already exist in their community. The partnership maps data using a line regression to create what they call a ‘hope chart.’ This method helps the partnership see specific schools that are high performing, even under challenging circumstances, and identify practices that can be spread to underperforming schools with similar challenging circumstances. Having this visual of data also helps shift conversations with educational leaders to focus on improvement rather than penalization. Learn more about the Commit! Partnership at www.commit2dallas.org
StriveTogether was not the only organization recognized by Moneyball for Government, some of our network members were also highlighted. They include The Road Map Project, Generation Next, and Commit! Dallas.
The cradle to career partnerships of StriveTogether make data-driven decisions, we encourage funders to use local data to fund what works, and are constantly using data to get better at what we do through a continuous improvement process. Data is not only the foundation of our collective impact work, it also is crucial in communications. Data is how partnerships can make the case, to show that they are having impact on every child, from cradle to career.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares this deep love for numbers. Andy Goodman taught us stories are the way to people’s hearts because data alone is not enough to drive them to action. Moreover, statistics with no context can be misinterpreted and inhibit the audience from connecting with the big picture. This means even if you create the most beautiful pie chart that has ever existed, it most likely will not be enough to change the beliefs and perceptions of your audience. The key to effective communication is to put the data in context. Three strategies have been identified as ways partnerships can to put their data into context- connecting the dots, social math and switching the story from portrait to landscape view.
Connecting the Dots
The connection between data points is not always apparent. For example, indications of improvement in third grade reading may not appear to be of interest to someone focused on high school graduation. It is important to help your audience understand the connection between the data. Do not assume your audience can see the solution through independent points of data, connect the dots for them. Explain the relationship between third grade reading and high school graduation for them. By explaining the relationship, you can show the “domino effect” that one event or statistic can have on another. In this example, use data to show that if a student falls behind in third grade reading they may spend their academic career catching up and may not graduate high school on time, if at all.
No Numbers? No Problem.
It can be difficult for the audience to grasp why a number is meaningful. Social math is a way to explain the size, scope and severity of data without using math or in some cases, even numbers by comparing the data point to something more familiar. Consider the following statements: The tobacco industry spent approximately $8.82 billion on advertising in 2011; or the tobacco industry spends more in advertising in one day than the federal government spends on prevention in an entire year. Which statement is easier to understand? Social math is a persuasive communications tool that helps associate data points to familiar and relatable concepts, it is absolutely necessary that the comparison is factual and not misleading. If the data used to make the comparison is faulty, the data and you may lose all credibility.
Portrait to Landscape
The last strategy for putting data in its place is to put it in the context of your story. In the last blog post we detailed Andy Goodman’s recipe for telling a great story. Think of the story as a portrait of an individual in the community who will be impacted by your work. Although the story is a powerful communications tool it only permits a limited view of the problem and more importantly the solution the partnership can bring. Use data to expand the audience’s view to the landscape of the community. Data should amplify your story. Once the audience connects to the story’s protagonist, use the opportunity to bring in data and explain how the issue at hand affects so many more people, just like the protagonist, in the community. The story will give the audience a face to think about when they see data points along the spectrum. Stories turn the data into people instead of numbers.
Data is absolutely essential in communications; however, it must be used in the right context. By using the three strategies outlined here you will be able to show how data points are related to each other, how to make statistics meaningful to audiences who are not data experts, and how to connect your story to your data to give the full landscape of what is going on in your community. Another key to communication is knowing when to use the right tool at the right time. Check out the next blog in our communications series where we will cover when to use stories, data and general information dependent on the type of communication that the situation dictates.
StriveTogether is hosting the 1st Annual Exploring Communities Convening on March 24-25, 2014 in Chicago, IL at the Hard Rock Hotel.
We invite your partnership to join communities throughout the country who are in the early stages of building a cradle to career partnership and working to meet the Exploring quality benchmarks in the StriveTogether Theory of Action. Take advantage of opportunities to share and network with others doing like work and facing similar challenges.
StriveTogether is putting together a robust agenda that focuses on topics including: Stakeholder Engagement, Understanding Outcomes and Indicators and Strategic Communications just to name a few. We will have Strategic Assistance staff and peer sites on hand to provide coaching to teams and each team will leave with a 180-day action plan to help guide the work going forward.
View the detailed agenda here.
Find information on how to register here.
Contact Kelly Robinson, email@example.com, with any questions.
At the 2014 Communications Convening in Albuquerque, Andy Goodman delivered a workshop entitled, Change the Story, Change the World, centered on the premise that “your story is the most powerful tool you have”. The workshop covered a myriad of topics from why the narrative is so powerful to how to collect stories from your community. However, the core of the presentation focused on how to tell a good story. Andy gave the audience a three step recipe to a delicious story, which made storytelling seem like, well, a piece of cake.
Andy Goodman’s Recipe for a Great Story
Step 1: Pre-heat the Oven and Gather the Ingredients
Before you dive into the action of the story you need to set it up for the audience, by giving them the context of the story. Think of this like pre-heating the oven, you need to have the conditions right for action. This is accomplished by setting the scene: when and where is the story taking place? Starting with this information helps the audience put themselves in the story.
After you let the audience know when and where the story is, you have to tell them who it is about. Think of this as gathering up your ingredients. Identify your protagonist, the main character (ingredient) of the story. Your choice of protagonist should reflect the audience. Make sure to describe in detail the protagonist: what is their name, do they have a goal, why should the audience care about them. These details are the complimentary ingredients to the story and make it authentic.
Step 2: Mix the Ingredients and Bake the Cake
Now that you have the ingredients it is time to combine them. This is what Andy calls the rising action. What barriers, conflicts or challenges does the protagonist face? Each new element adds drama and interest. The story should have an aura of surprise and vulnerability; if the protagonist has an easy and sure-footed path to success, the story is boring.
As baking is a series of chemical reactions that reveal the nature of the cake, so it is with the development of the protagonist. How the protagonist reacts to each new challenge reveal their character and helps the audience connect to them. The more an audience connects with the protagonist, the more likely they are to have an emotional response that will help the story stick in their head.
Step 3: Icing on the Cake
After the rising action has concluded it is time to wrap it up and put the icing on the cake. Was the protagonist successful or did they fall flat on their face? What lessons did the protagonist learn and how did they grow? What is the takeaway from the story? The ending point should be clear and leave the audience with a sense of resolution or a will to act.
A good story is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal, it can help build credibility, garner community buy in or incite people to action and if you follow Andy’s recipe you are well on your way to developing your story. As it would turn out, your story is not the end of the story. As Andy Goodman said “How do you convince people who are all about data that the story is important? People can’t face facts if they are facing the wrong way. Stories let the facts in. Stories are not the opposite of data, they are the key to letting the facts make the case.” The next blog in the Communications Convening blog series will help you connect the data to the story by putting it in context.
Check out more lessons from Andy Goodman here.
Tom Friedman, author of the amazing book The World is Flat that in many ways sparked the development of The Strive Partnership in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, recently shared an op-ed that made a compelling case for the President adopting a message of personal responsibility in his State of the Union address (Obama’s Homework Assignment, Jan 18, 2014). It is worth noting that we already hear the President and other members of his Cabinet speaking about this not only related to students and families, but for all those who invest time, talent, and treasure in offering successful supports.
The President’s recent announcement of Promise Zones was a prime example. While receiving little fanfare, the speech signaled a clear shift from simply investing in more programs to working to focus resources on the most impactful programs and services. He said, “We don’t fund things, we don’t start projects just for the sake of starting them. They’ve got to work. If they don’t work we should try something else. And sometimes those of us who care deeply about advancing opportunity aren’t willing to subject some of these programs to that test: Do they work?”
And further, the announcement did not include a promise of more funds. Instead, it was focused on government specifically becoming a partners for change. Secretary Donovan of HUD wrote, “In the old days, Washington would swoop into communities and plan for them rather than with them. This approach tended to address problems one-by-one instead of taking a holistic approach.”
This departure from a focus on starting new programs to an approach that demands the discipline required to work together and focus limited resources on what actually works is all about personal responsibility as well. It is about stopping the “spray and pray” approach to investment – where we spray resources all over the place and pray good things happen – to a much more targeted approach is captured in the concept of collective impact. Just as Friedman notes, it is about how we “change expectations” for the way we work with kids and families by coming together across sectors, with government as a key player at the table, to work together to build on what works.
I was a part of launching the cradle to career partnership in Cincinnati that has become a model for collective impact and I continue to work with the heads of all our campuses to join with early childhood, K-12, non-profit, philanthropic, and business partners work to play a similar role. As a result, we have seen outcomes for children improve despite funding cuts and in the face of significant social challenges, in some cases by over 10 points on key measures like 3rd grade reading and high school graduation rates. And this was achieved all because partners work together to stop pointing fingers at each other and share accountability for results.
The President would do well to make personal responsibility a key topic of the State of the Union. But we hope he continues to build on this message that not just parents and students, but all of us need to look in the mirror and ask what role we can play and, perhaps more importantly, what we can do differently on a daily basis to make sure we “take education seriously enough” to not only help children and youth succeed, but our communities thrive and our economy prosper.
Effectively communicating the work of a cradle to career partnership can be challenging, to say the least. To help tackle this communication tongue-tie and share successes (and failures) in this area, StriveTogether hosted staff from 17 partnerships from across the country in Albuquerque, NM for a Communications Convening. Entitled Change the Story, Change the World, the Convening included three sessions: a workshop delivered by nationally recognized author and speaker, Andy Goodman on how to “tell your story”; a Communications Fail Forward Fest featuring two brave partnerships willing to tell how they failed in their communications efforts and shared what they learned; and a panel discussion with partners from Mission: Graduate, the cradle to career partnership in Albuquerque and hosts of the event. In case you missed out on this great convening (or just want to relive the experience), the sessions are recapped below.
Change the Story, Change the World
The first session of the day was a workshop in storytelling from Andy Goodman. Andy is a television writer turned founder of the Goodman Center, whose mission is to help good causes reach more people with more impact. The workshop centered on the premise that “your story is the most powerful tool that you have” and dug into issues like why the narrative is so powerful, the structure of a good story, and how to collect stories from your community.
Lessons in How Not to Communicate
Based on the popularity of the first Fail Forward Fest (a session where partnerships relay tales of their not so successful efforts and lessons learned from said efforts) at National Convening, the session was revived for the Communications Convening. Becky LaPlant of Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success a regional cradle to career partnership in Northern Minnesota and Kira Higgs of All Hands Raised of the cradle to career partnership Portland, OR participated in the Communications Fail Forward Fest. Becky shared a story of a Rotary Club presentation gone wrong and how to avoid similar situations in the future. Kira told us how not to communicate with co-convening partners and gave a lesson on rebuilding trust.
On the Ground Examples from Mission:Graduate
The last session of the day was a panel discussion that centered on communications challenges that partnerships face and featured some on the ground examples of practices that worked for Mission: Graduate. Moderated by Cris Mulder, VP of Marketing and Communications for KnowledgeWorks (StriveTogether is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks), the panel was comprised of four members of the Mission: Graduate team: Monica Armenta, Executive Director of Community Relations for Albuquerque Public Schools; Angelo Gonzales, Executive Director of Mission: Graduate; Alexis Kerschner Tappan; Senior Director of Marketing and PR at the Central New Mexico Community College; and Jeanette Miller, Director of Communications and Marketing at the United Way of Central New Mexico. The discussion left us all envious of the great work Mission: Graduate has been able to achieve in their communications outreach and materials.
So many fantastic examples and ideas were shared at the convening, fitting it all into just one blog would be impossible! To make sure we capture and share all this great knowledge, we will be launching a mini-blog series to discuss some big take-aways from the convening around communications challenges. Please check back for the next blog focused on Andy Goodman’s recipe for a good story.
As communities across the country engage in collective impact generally and the work of building cradle to career civic infrastructure specifically, one of the first issues that always comes up is stress and tension around the selection of a “backbone organization.” This is a core component of the work that Kania and Kramer lifted up in the original Stanford Social Innovation Review article. While we could not agree more that there is a need for the concept that is described, the power struggles that often occur among the various entities that want to play this role often get in the way of progress and can derail an effort early on as historical issues of turf quickly emerge.
We are learning that the concept of a single backbone organization may very well be flawed. This has become clear as we worked with an array of different communities looking to navigate the often contentious discussions around where the organization should land. Most of time, the different organizations engaged in these discussions locally bring very different skills, interests, and competencies to the table. Sometimes they have a unique leader who could play the central executive director or “cat herder” role effectively. Others, they have the capacity to do the critical data analytics. Still other times they may really be interested in moving one or two outcomes, say early childhood and early grade reading alone, not the entire continuum of outcomes.
This has led us to the conclusion that what is likely needed is a “backbone function” not a “backbone organization.” This may simply sound like semantics, but it leads to a completely different way to approaching the staffing of collective impact work. This shift helps us to see that this work is not about a central power center that gets created in a traditional hierarchical paradigm, but instead is about a set of shared roles that need to be played as we look to connect the dots instead of recreate the wheel. These roles, which simply have to be played by a host of organizations since no one new organization can lead collective impact work alone, include:
There are certainly other roles that emerge over time and need to be played, but this is a start. And if we see that a host of organizations working in concert all can contribute to the overall backbone function any community needs to have played, it can and should reduce some of the power struggles that have emerged around this important piece of the work.
We have learned one additional lesson that deserves to be mentioned. It is helpful, especially early in this work, to have all the key staff located in the same place even if they come from different organizations. The importance of these staff sharing what they are learning on a daily basis, helps them practice the type of continuous improvement they are looking to promote across community partners. The simple reality is there will be a need a fiscal agent and they have to sit somewhere. We recommend communities not create a new 501c3 to house the staff since this work is primarily about leverage existing resources. We term wherever they land as the “anchor entity”, but whatever it is called it need not cause conflict since it should become clear very quickly that there is joint ownership for the backbone function as a whole.
At our recent convening we had an outstanding plenary session with stories on how sites have “failed forward”. This feels like an important example of us failing forward, learning and adapting at the national level, just as local leaders do this every day on-the-ground to achieve better results for children and families. What do you think?