Recently I got into a twitter exchange with Cormac Russel of Nurture Development about a post I wrote titled “3 Indicators of a Strong Community.” In this exchange, Cormac shared a lot of wonderful insights but the one I am most interested in exploring in this post relates to evaluation methodology.
To understand the exchange, you need to know the back story. Here locally we are in conversation with our local United Way exploring outcomes measurement for asset-based community development (ABCD). That conversation has led us to attempt to put ABCD into a traditional logic model format, something I tried in the past and found terribly frustrating. If you are not familiar with a logic model, it is basically a visual representation of your theory of change that looks like this:
Inputs + Activities = Outputs and Outcomes (short-term, intermediate and long-term)
The problem with this model is that it is very linear and assumes you know all the inputs and that the activity produces consistent predictable outputs and outcomes.
With asset-based community development, the inputs are the gifts, talents and passions of the neighborhood residents themselves. Therefore, if you are using an ABCD process, your inputs are continually changing, thus your outcomes will also change even if your process is identical.
Here is an example. In three neighborhoods out of the five we mapped last summer, the citizens were passionate about keeping kids safe. Yet how they approached this task varied greatly.
- In neighborhood A, a resident decides to start a cheerleading team.
- In neighborhood B, residents started serving cocoa at the bus stop.
- In neighborhood C, the neighbors felt speed bumps were the best solution.
We used the same process in all three neighborhoods to address the same identified desire – child safety. Why were the responses so different? Because the inputs are different!
The environment in which these residents live is one input.
- In Neighborhood A, gun violence is the concern. Thus getting kids off the streets was a priority.
- In Neighborhood B, the high number of sex offenders is the concern and the bus stop is seen as the place young people are vulnerable.
- In neighborhood C, the only place for the kids to play is in the street so speeding cars are the concern.
Another input that varies, are the skills of the neighbors themselves.
- In Neighborhood A, cheerleading emerged because a resident was a former competitive cheer coach.
- In neighborhood B, cocoa at the bus stop was the solution because a resident volunteered to make the cocoa and organize others to help her.
- In neighborhood C, the neighbors were motivated because a young person had been struck by a speeding car.
So you have both the unique conditions in the neighborhood as well as the neighbor’s gifts and motivation to act. All variable and all changing as you continue to invite new residents to join the effort. As the process matures and neighbors come and go from the effort, the solutions change and sometimes the issues change. Thus the need for an evaluation methodology that allows for changing conditions on the ground.
So I fully understood Cormac Russel’s comments below:
What makes logic models powerful is that they are a visual representation of a process. As I began to think about the challenge, I realized that ABCD is more of a circular process. The process continually feeds the associational life of the community and it is the associational life that fuels on-going development. Unlike institutionally driven work which is predicated on a clear objective and driven by a few at the top, associational life is continually changing and driven by group consensus.
Now all of us doing ABCD use different vehicles for fueling the associational life. In our Northside development efforts, this is what the process looks like. We use the acronym CDCD, Citizen Driven Community Defined, because of the rampant coopting of ABCD language.
We are empowering youth through a Young Leaders Club, we are connecting neighbors through Block Clubs, and then we are bringing local leaders together through an Area Collective. The Area Collective is then helping to launch and connect citizens into action teams. The focus of these action teams is determined through our on-going listening process and is defined by the community.
This is a complex system with a lot of moving parts. It is designed to be fluid so that it can adjust quickly to the realities of the environment and the gifts and passions of the neighbors.
I would love to know if other ABCD practitioners find this diagram helpful and in keeping with their own process. I realize not all practitioners engage youth and that not all practitioners use a block by block organizing strategy. So I created this generic diagram to visualize what I think is a more or less universal image of the ABCD process. Since I only know the work of others through blog posts and a few site visits, I would love to know if this is consistent with your ABCD practices.
Can you please leave your comments on these diagrams below in the comment section so that we can have an archive of insights? I love twitter but if we don’t document the exchange, we will lose the wisdom for others entering the conversation at a later date.
In our conversations with our local United Way, the suggestion has been made that we create logic models for each individual process demonstrating those outcomes we can control- such as those I named in my prior post (social capital, civic investment, social efficacy). For those that are community defined, we make that the goal of the process.
If there is interest in continuing this conversation, I would be happy to share more of the exchange with Cormac along with any insights others would like to contribute. Anyone else up for some collaborative work on this topic? I have a wonderful MSW intern who is really excited about all this and willing to help curate content.
If you would like to contribute to this, please leave a comment below and I will email you. It might even be interesting to try to set up a skype call with those who are working on this issue.