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Laying the Groundwork for Success: Part II

May 10, 2013 All Articles, Nonprofits and Communities Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Part II: Q&A with Michael McAfee of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink

In our last entry, I spoke with Michael McAfee, Senior Director at PolicyLink and Director of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink (PNI). Inspired by the successful model of the Harlem Children’s Zone, PNI supports Promise Neighborhoods—communities of opportunity centered around strong schools—to wrap children in education, health, and social supports from the cradle to college to career. Michael and I discussed potential barriers within communities, how to motivate leadership to take action, and how to overcome funding challenges and resistance to change.

The following is the second half of our interview, during which Michael and I have a dialogue on the role of data collection, the importance of having a strong performance and outcome measurement system, data’s impact on breaking down barriers within a community, and the successes we’ve seen in the communities we serve.

1. What kind of data should communities be collecting, tracking and analyzing? How do we help communities become data-driven?

Michael McAfee: After identifying the results, baselines, targets, and performance measures for the population to be served, leaders should collect data at the individual and aggregate levels. Leaders should also be able to dis-aggregate data by race, gender, and other variables so that strategies can be developed to address the specific needs of sub-populations. Leaders will use data for learning, continuous improvement, and shared accountability if it is included in every aspect of the work from governance, stakeholder management, operations, program and evaluation.

Ananda Roberts: From a data perspective, the critical piece is in getting the community or organization excited about collecting it. They need to look beyond doing so as being an administrative task and instead see it as part of contributing to an outcome that benefits the greater good. Once they have an understanding of what the possibilities are, collecting data within a strong community solution or outcome measurement tool no longer seems like a mundane task.

But, it’s more than just the act of collecting data. A community, a foundation, the state and every step in between has to analyze and use that data to figure out the underlying issues and their root cause. Once you know who a person is and the types of issues they face, you can figure out what needs to be provided in terms of wraparound services to move that individual from where they are now to a better outcome.

2. Can the act of collecting data help communities overcome some of the barriers they have in motivating their communities and moving forward with implementing the collective impact initiative?

AR: The performance and outcome measurement software a community is using to collect data has to be easy to use. If it’s hard to use, it’s going to be avoided. The system also has to have strong reporting capabilities, because people want the instant gratification of seeing the results behind their data and a system MUST be able to aggregate data, without that you really don’t have a data software system. Finally, there needs to be someone available who can help community and initiative leaders analyze what the data means.  That’s crucial – because results can be interpreted incorrectly.

The partnership with a data service provider is almost as important as the technology itself when it comes to motivating and moving the process for change along. Communities in Schools realized this need in its quest to redesign its existing performance management and shared measurement system for its national network of nearly 200 affiliates in 24 States, serving over 1.2 million children. The organization, which focuses on dropout prevention, selected nFocus Solutions for our advanced impact measurement and community software – as much as for our commitment to ensuring that our clients succeed in their mission.

3. Once both the process and the right technology are in place, how can communities continue to grow the initiative and also ensure that they continue to make a difference?

MM: The initiative will continue to make steady progress if stakeholders are achieving results. Stakeholders’ probability of achieving results is increased when community change efforts are adequately funded to achieve the desired results, and stakeholders have the capacity to undertake an approach where people are held accountable and the lessons learned and wins gained are continuously expressed and evaluated.

AR: I think that once a community has operationalized getting to “change” other communities will want to know how they did it and will adopt similar roadmaps to achieve the outcomes they’re looking for. At that point, communities will be energized because they’ll be implementing a powerful model that they’ve seen being used elsewhere for success; a model that includes the ability to attract funding. At that point, progress will become more important than getting funds.

4. If you were sitting next to a community leader who wants to make a difference but must break down barriers first, what advice would you offer to help keep him or her motivated?

MM: I would encourage them to consider that, as a nation, we are making progress when it comes to creating communities of opportunity. Right now, we know more than we’ve ever known before about how to achieve results in our nation’s most distressed communities. Because of this, we should not be discouraged by the challenges we’re facing. Rather, we must be encouraged by the fact that we have the knowledge, tools, and resources we need. What we need to continue to do is be leaders with powerful visions for change. Equally important, we must also be competent leaders capable of building the coalitions necessary to achieve results at scale.

AR: I think success comes from both having the right mindset and from doing what other successful organizations have done. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are considered geniuses to us because they didn’t need a model; they looked into the future and delivered to us what we needed. The rest of us need to be able to model what works. I think that until we’ve got a clearly defined, well-executed and well-documented model, we’re still out there trying to figure out what leads to success in this space. We can define the outcomes, but the way of getting there is still not defined because it just hasn’t been done yet – and that’s the exciting part.

Visit nFocus Solutions website to learn more about the communities that nFocus is partnering with. You can read more about Michael McAfee and the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink at

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