A recent Washington Post article (6/10/20) looked at how and why funds to use farm surplus to feed hungry Americans led to awards to a San Antonio event planner and a health-and-wellness airport kiosk company. I know of one key reason: results and likelihood of their being achieved were not of the highest priority in selecting groups. When asked by the Post, USDA furnished the selection criteria for awards: “Proposals for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program were evaluated by, in descending order of importance, the technical information contained, the prices offered, past performance of the offeror and the offeror’s ability to perform.” Wow. Hiring a consultant to provide technical data and projecting a low price is more important than what the group has done in the past and its capability to perform now. Something sure is backwards here.
And this is not a solitary example. In government procurements, the needs statement and program description supplied by a grants writer can add up to more points than the number of people who get a defined gain. And with some philanthropies, the program fit to mission and number of partners listed can outweigh points allocated to results.
Two additional problems jump out from this observation. The first is that in some assessment frameworks there literally is no category of results. A recent newspaper column reported on the grade given a superintendent. The assessment had four areas: leadership, high quality instruction, continuous improvement, and communication. None includes how many students went to grade level in reading or math.
The second problem is the confusion between form and substance. I was just asked to review a foundation application which had the following criteria considered the best way to include results: How clear and complete is the proposal on program outcomes? Not are the results high enough to be worth the grant…. Just “are they clear?” I also see this issue with the evaluation factor that gives points for clarity of the evaluation plan. I learn that the group has hired an evaluator and will use a survey. I do not know whether this captures opinions or actual changes in behavior. Again, the process focuses on the form, not the content.