Recommended Reading

February 2017 Newsletter: What We’re Reading and What We’re Up To

What We’re Reading

Doneliza Joaquin

About a high-school program that intersects mathematics, data analysis, mapmaking, and understanding of the urban landscape currently on exhibit at Cooper Hewitt for its use of inclusive community design.

 

 

Julia Deutsch

The Furman Center’s straightforward economic analysis of the latest reform proposal for the 421-a Program, focusing on how new wage requirements could impact city tax payers and developers alike.

 

 

Moe Magali

The business case for companies to invest in re-skilling their workforce, with or without incentives from the public sector, and clearly communicating the purpose of new training to get the best results out of employees and for business interests.

 

 

Diana Petty

A match-making app that connects M/WBE businesses with City and State business opportunities.

 

 

 

What We’re Up To:

We love that our work takes us across all five boroughs. We travel from our Manhattan office to the Bronx to support Lincoln Center Education as they increase their programming in Community School District 7 and think about how to most effectively meet the needs of parents, teachers, and students. We’re also in Queens on a team led by HR&A working with the Queens Borough President’s Office and Queens Chamber of Commerce on the Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative, helping the local planning committee identify workforce projects that will best fit future growth in the area. In Brooklyn, we’re in our third year providing technical assistance and performance management support for the Change Capital Fund grantees, including Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, St. Nicks Alliance, Bronx-based New Settlement and Stronger Together, to track common outcomes and understand effective strategies for collectively combating povertyThen, we hop the ferry to get to the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation where we’re working to understand the needs of small industrial businesses and design a program model to connect local residents to training and job opportunities ahead. And, touching all boroughs plus other parts of New York and New Jersey, we’re supporting Goodwill to develop a strategic plan that will harness the organization’s strengths to focus on its core mission.

Next month, we hit the road to NYATEP’s Youth Academy. We’ll be facilitating a practice building workshop on how to use design thinking to address youth workforce challenges. We’ll ground participants in how to integrate design thinking principles into program development, and provide hands-on opportunities to practice this for your work!

Recipe for Metrics Success

Across our work, we aim to strengthen organizations that strengthen communities. But, to know if we are strengthening an organization or it is in turn strengthening a community, there has to be a clearly defined method for measuring impact. When thinking about how to design and implement effective performance management practices at your organization, we recommend focusing on three key elements: culture, systems, and reporting. Specifically, we mean:

  1. Establishing a culture that is data-driven and performance-oriented
  2. Developing systems and data-collection processes that are scalable and sustainable
  3. Designing reporting tools that are targeted for specific audiences and inform actions

The activities that feed these three elements include the development of new or refined KPIs and metrics, systems for collecting data, tools for reporting progress, and processes for incorporating findings to improve future work. We’re often asked, and rightfully so, “What is the difference between a KPI and a metric?” KPIs, Key Performance Indicators, show how effective a program or project is at achieving its goals. A metric measures ongoing performance of a program or project, but may not be tied to a specific goal or goals. Rule of thumb: all KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. For example, a workforce services provider might track the number of walk-ins that inquire about services, but might not have a target number of walk-ins (here, walk-ins are a metric). On the other hand, they might track the placement rate for graduates of a training program, and be driving toward an identified placement percentage (here, the placement rate is a KPI).

Culture that is data-driven and performance-oriented
The first place to start is building a culture that embraces the power of data-collection and performance management so that these practices take hold and thrive at your organization. This can only happen successfully if a clear understanding of goals, accountability, and necessity are integrated at all levels of staff, not just those designated as a “data” team. In our work with Change Capital Fund, a collaborative of 16 funders, which invests in community organizations to increase economic mobility in persistently low-income neighborhoods, four local development organizations are working on a collective effort to alleviate poverty through affordable housing, workforce, youth, and adult education programs. We’ve worked with these organizations to develop a set of common metrics to measure individual and collective impact and also discussed best practices for engaging executive, program, and front-line staff in the metrics process. A recent op-ed by Eileen Auld at Citi, one of the Change Capital Fund funders, demonstrates how this culture has taken root and driven results across the grantees.

Systems and processes that are scalable and sustainable
With a data-driven culture in place, you then want to make sure you are focused on measuring ongoing performance, not just completing a one-off process that’s difficult to repeat on a recurring basis. This requires processes and responsibilities that are clearly defined, realistic, and integrated into day-to-day work. You will need to be able to answer questions such as when and how is data going to be collected and who is responsible? For example, the Change Capital Fund organizations are utilizing existing touchpoints with program participants, including at intake and program completion, to collect data. The organizations have also worked on building or refining their data-tracking systems to more seamlessly track participant progress across programs. So, even as the number of program participants grew from 5,400 to over 8,600 in the course of a year, data collection processes were positioned to scale with that growth.

Reporting tools that are targeted and inform actions
Successful metrics reports will have a clearly defined user and provide key information necessary for that user to adjust. An easy analogy is a speedometer in a car: the defined user is the driver and displaying the speed of the vehicle allows the driver to adjust and be accountable with changing speed limits. In the Change Capital Fund example, individual organizations have detailed internal reports for staff and a separate report for the Change Capital funders themselves with higher-level information and a summary across organizations. Having tailored reports for different levels of staff or stakeholders allows unique groups to inform their decision-making in a way that’s most relevant to their area of responsibility.

We love data, but numbers are only part of the recipe for success. Incorporating performance management into your organization positions you to evaluate the current state, identify where you want to be in the future, and build tools and processes to track progress towards goals. Culture, systems, and reporting are ingredients that will help you set up an infrastructure that is conducive for successful performance management and measuring your organization’s impact.

Strategic Planning the Public Works Way: Collaborative, Actionable, Measurable

Public Works is thrilled to be sharing our approach to strategic planning this month on a panel at New York Nonprofit Media’s event, Nonprofit BoardCon. This event will bring together board members and senior leaders from New York City nonprofits to discuss strategies for collaboration. We plan to share our strategic planning methodology, particularly our strategy for making these plans visionary; inclusive of staff and board objectives; and an actionable roadmap for nonprofit leaders. Our process is grounded in two principles – we:

  1. Tailor our approach to align with our clients’ organizational culture and objectives, which helps create a plan that fits the client context.
  2. Collaborate closely with our client to lay a foundation when it comes time to challenge accepted norms and build buy in around change that will drive innovation.

Here’s a snapshot of our methodology:

Graphic, strategic planning blog

I. Organizational Assessment and Stakeholder Engagement Planning
We begin our strategic planning process with an assessment of the organization’s structure, program model, performance, funding schemes, and budget, which allows us to identify strengths, challenges, and opportunities. As part of the assessment, we map out internal and external stakeholders and an engagement plan to gather input iteratively from various levels along the way.

One of the most critical stakeholder groups is the board of directors. We’ve learned the importance of working with board members early and often to drive toward consensus around a vision for the future. We work with clients to quickly get up to speed on board roles, history, and decision-making protocol to determine the most effective intervals for productive board engagement. For instance, and quite often, we would establish three points of board engagement during the strategic planning process: the beginning (to lay out the vision, perhaps at a board retreat), middle (to share recommendations), and end (to present the final plan). We’ve also found that one-off board member engagement, in breakout groups or one-on-one conversations, can be beneficial for allowing stakeholders to share feedback on their unique areas of expertise, test the validity of our assumptions, or understand the areas where we’ll need their support (such as fundraising or making connections to potential partners).

II. Establishing the Vision, Setting Goals, and Measuring Progress
Following assessment and establishing stakeholder engagement, we move into developing a vision and setting goals that drive toward fulfilling our clients’ mission. We find it most effective to start this phase at a retreat or working session where we can dig into programmatic inputs, outputs, outcomes, and the ultimate impact desired at the program and organizational levels. We work forwards from inputs or backwards from the ultimate impact depending on what the client has already begun to define as core to its work ahead, or areas they wish to experiment with or expand upon. Ultimately, we shape goals with our clients that are attainable and align specific activities to achieve specific outcomes. We craft strategic plans to be dynamic, working documents that are relevant to staff’s everyday work and prevent the plan from becoming an unutilized document that gathers dust on a shelf.

Part and parcel with this, setting a goal will only take you so far: you have to be positioned to track progress toward reaching a goal and determine where improvements need to be made as you go. We work with our clients to develop key performance indicators to measure success in implementing the plan. We’ve learned the importance of making indicators that work concretely within the client’s organizational context, and can be connected to program or client data that’s already readily and regularly accessible for analysis. We also use this to setup a framework for our client to manage the implementation process through data-driven tracking.

III. Developing the Implementation Plan
Finally, we create an implementation plan that lays out the steps and decisions necessary to reach the activities and objectives set forth in the strategic plan. We empower clients to take immediate action on quick wins and early priorities, and phase efforts that require greater coordination or extended preparation over the longer term. We address budget and resource considerations, develop fundraising strategies, explore partnership opportunities, and make recommendations for organizational structure and board governance. We track these implementation steps to the established goals, and set timelines and activities that will allow for the successful implementation of the plan, while taking into account the organization’s ongoing demands and potential constraints. Without a clearly set path to implementation, and an approach to managing the various moving parts, we’ve seen many strategic plans become merely a coffee table book in the lobby rather than being executed to their full potential.

Developing a plan that’s relevant to staff in their everyday roles, incorporates iterative feedback from multiple levels of stakeholders, and helps executive staff measure progress will ensure that the plan is well implemented and that it helps the organization effectively work toward its mission. For a young organization, a strong strategic plan can be a concrete way to engage the board and to help define their roles. For mature organizations that have the benefit of experience, successes, and perhaps some failures, a clear process can help the staff and board prioritize and refocus energy and resources toward fulfilling the mission in a more efficient or innovative new way. Our focus on customization and collaboration allows us to design strategic plans that fit the unique needs and operations of our clients, and allow organizations to seamlessly transition from planning to action, and ultimately increasing impact.

Contact Us

Mailing Address
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New York, NY 10016
(347) 619-2892
info@publicworkspartners.com