In a conversation about social impact, you really can’t avoid talking about scalability. The Stanford Social Innovation Review’s latest article on the subject—“The Quest for Scale”—makes some good points worth our attention. For example, author Louis Boorstin observes that efforts to improve service delivery may not achieve much if the set of existing policies and institutions, those that should facilitate this process, don’t change as well. This is where advocacy can be helpful in pressuring the system to respond to a community’s needs. And, he also notes, well-designed evaluations are important in this effort.
We’re big fans of “lessons learned.” Heck, if we don’t learn anything—not even a tiny kernel of wisdom—from our mistakes, then we’ve got a big problem. So, what have we learned from the government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis? The New Yorker’s John Cassidy breaks it down for us in ten easy steps. We tip our collective hat to Warren Buffett on #9: just as the country’s creditworthiness can be hard to build back up, once the trust between an evaluator and her client takes a hit it ain’t easily replaced. Our trust in Washington politics? Now that’s in the negative range.
One of our favorite podcasts, Radiolab, had a terrific piece this week on blame incorporating multiple keywords we’ve encountered in our evaluation work—accountability and responsibility, repercussion and punishment. Evaluators are often seen as outsiders coming in to an organization to assign blame for the failure to achieve certain outcomes (or praise should there be a success). This is especially true when funders commission an evaluation and potential grant money is on the line. We like to challenge this notion with clients by focusing on something else: evaluation isn’t about blame; it’s about reflection, growth and, yes, learning.