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Rankings / Collective Impact & Complexity / Strategic Philanthropy

February 1, 2013

So… What Are We Measuring Here?

We’re constantly bombarded with rankings, everything from best cities in the US to top (study?) party schools.  With Penn’s annual Global GoTo Think Tank Index, think tanks are also in the mix.  Penn asks academics, policymakers, journalists and others to rank think tanks according to metrics like reputation, “ability to produce new knowledge,” and overall “usefulness” of reports.  Yep, it’s all about perception.  The Center for Global Development recently proposed an alternative limited to an organization’s “public profile.”  What would tell you that a think tank’s work is really making a difference?  

Revisiting Collective Impact

The latest from FSG about “collective impact” adds an ingredient we wrote about just last weekcomplexity.  For many advocates, the challenges of “emergence” are the stuff of daily work: political winds change, opportunities for action pop up unexpectedly, and the frenetic news cycle is always moving on to the next big story.  FSG rightly points out the value in pairing purposeful planning with a willingness to learn (and change strategy) along the way.  As a certain someone once said, keep an eye out for those “unknown unknowns.”   


Like many evaluators, APEP benefits from the current emphasis among influential US foundations on “strategic philanthropy.”  But we recognize its limitations as well; the emphasis on short-term, measurable impacts sometimes associated with “strategic” thinking can undercut the patient resolve that social and policy change often requires.  And a narrowly defined “mission” can squelch creativity.  Thomas Scanlon, longtime board member of the Public Welfare Foundation, offers this eloquent and deeply felt critique.