Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Do The Right Thing - What Things?

We all want to lower the high costs of poverty, improve the quality of the workforce, and prepare young people for successful adult lives. Yet, countless articles show that we’re not succeeding, especially in high poverty areas of Chicago and other parts of the country.

Maybe it’s because we’re not focused on the same goals, and we don’t have a common blueprint?

In researching for this article I did a Google search on “Do the Right Thing” and found a number of interesting links that I posted on the T/MC forum (no longer active).

In the past week I showed how many teens Cabrini Connections has helped in the past decade. I wrote about how we've created an information library that we share with people at Cabrini Connections, and who lead other tutor/mentor programs. I wrote about how we've expanded our mapping capacity and drawn people together to share ideas with each other.

This graphic shows the home page of the T/MC web site, with the four general goals that I've described.

If you are given a $100 million dollars by your company, and your community, you need to apply some of the lessons in this Blueprint for Strategic Leadership article.

I think you'd also need to do what I've outlined as the four steps of the T/MC strategy. Collect information related to the problem and potential solutions, bring more people together to look at that information, help them understand that, and help them converge on actions that if repeated over time would lead to better non-school support systems in high poverty neighborhoods, more consistent involvement of those beyond poverty to help those living in poverty, better schools, a more consistent flow of resources, and ultimately, more kids staying in school and leaving with momentum toward jobs and careers.

If this is true, then what system would enable us to know which leaders are actually following this blueprint in their own actions?

In the late 1990s I was contacted by Steve Roussos, a PhD student at the University of Kansas. He began to present workshops at T/MC conferences in Chicago and we began barnstorming ways to improve T/MC effectiveness. Steve introduce the idea of on-line documentation, that was piloted with a project in Kansas City.

The idea of on-line documentation is that unless the various people involved in a project are documenting actions they take to achieve specific goals related to long-term mission, it would be impossible to really know over time what the group had accomplished, and/or who was responsible for any successes that were achieved.

In a recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article this idea of documentation collaborative action was reviewed. Measuring Outcomes Across multiple organizations was also discussed here.

Thus T/MC was able to receive a small grant of $15,000 in 1999 and we paid Steve to build an Organizational History and Tracking System for the Tutor/Mentor Connection. We began documenting actions and recruiting people who were working with T/MC to document their actions.

However, we did not get funding after the first year to keep working out the bugs in the system and to keep Steve involved. My mid 2002 we had documented over 400 actions and Steve wrote this report showing purpose of OHATS and creating an analysis of actions documented up to that point.

As we moved into 2003 we found that the more actions we were documenting the less people were likely to scroll through the list of actions to read what was reported. We also found that the system was getting spammed. Without funds for Steve or other tech people we could not fix this.

Thus in 2004-2006 not much was being documented.

Then in 2007 a volunteer from Baltimore offered to help. He completely rebuilt the OHATS, adding in search features and charts that automatically changed with each new document added. We launched the new OHATS in 2008, and we’ve begun to reach out to invite others to use it.

However, we still don’t have the money to keep updating the technology, nor do we have an analyst like Steve, to make sense of what is being reported. In the examples I pointed to above about on-line documentation systems and collaborative networks, the intermediary groups were spending over $1.5 million each year. T/MC has not had more than $200,000 in any year since 2001 for its entire operation.

However, we’ve now documented more than 1500 actions over the past 10 years to help volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in all high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago.

One of the latest was by Nicola Avery, who lives in the United Kingdom. She’s visiting T/MC sites to borrow ideas she can use in the UK. A few weeks ago she created this video to show others how to use the OHATS.

On the home page of OHATS you can see one of the charts, with a brief description of what that chart is focusing on. On this Metrics page you can see four additional charts.

To help visitors to OHATS understand the purpose of each chart we add a link to a discussion page on our ning site where you can get a more in-depth understanding of that chart.

Now, imagine what might be the result if hundreds of Chicago area leaders and volunteers -- representing business, philanthropy, government, volunteer and civic organizations, etc. -- were to become recorders, and were documenting their own actions toward these goals?

Wouldn’t that mean more of us were following the same blueprint, and learning to see that specific actions lead to desired results, and that by repeating these actions over and over for many years we can get more of the results we all want.

What is keeping this from happening? More tomorrow.

See the entire group of charts in this Decade in Review PDF.

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