Part 2: Collaboration
I see collaborative work and outcomes management as two sides of the same “working smarter” coin. I discussed outcomes management in my first post in this series, and my organization, Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), has embraced its importance. VPP is committed to learning from our work, and although the nonprofit partnerships we fund have been successful, we recognize there is more we can do with the resources available. By tracking and assessing our progress along the way, we have seen that the best way to “work smarter” is through collaborative action. Without the first side of the coin—outcomes management, we would not have reached the other side—collaboration. Without collaboration, the data we collect is too limited to get a full picture of our region and what its children and youth need.
When you combine these two aspects of “working smarter,” the result can be powerful. With our collaborative initiative, youthCONNECT, which is funded in part by the Social Innovation Fund, we are developing a common outcomes framework to track the impact of the full network. Once fully implemented, we will be able to track the activities of the six organizations in the network on three different outcomes areas: healthy behaviors, educational attainment, and employment.
Of course, this is still an experiment, as anyone involved with the SIF or collaborative activities in general will tell you. It may be another decade or more before we see its specific results, but the results will be there.
At a recent briefing we hosted, Lori Kaplan of the Latin American Youth Center, a member of the youthCONNECT network, spoke about outcomes. She applauded the work youthCONNECT is doing on outcomes management because she recognizes it as the best way to get the biggest impact. She said, “I think we are on to something.”
I think she is right.
Once we see the true impact of collaboration, a siloed nature of working will become a thing of the past. The tenets of “working smarter” will remain, no matter how our economy and society changes.
It just makes sense: Why would we not collect information to understand the effectiveness of our work? Why would we not collaborate with each other to get the most out of our combined resources? It’s a simple premise a long time in the making.
I urge the funders of the world to support both sides of the “working smarter” coin. I would encourage funders to support the infrastructure needed for a smart use of resources: outcomes management systems, assessment staff, “backbone” organizations facilitating collaboration, shared learning opportunities…the list is endless.
We are on to something here and we should not pass this opportunity. With our investments in performance management, VPP and its investment partners were able to accomplish so much. Imagine what the entire philanthropic sector could do. Together, we can leverage both sides of the coin to improve the lives of children and youth, and society as a whole.
Carol Thompson Cole is president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners.This post has been edited from her recent VPPNews column.