What happens after a program?
I was speaking with my colleague Michael Corley the other day about how best to understand the longer-term impacts from a program designed to help nonprofits. My interest was practical. My Results1st partner, Robyn Faucy, led a four-part program for a number of nonprofits in the Sarasota/Bradenton area of Florida, and I was about to call participating groups three months after the program to see what had stuck with them. Michael suggested the term “embedded”. Was anything from the program now embedded in the organization? I was drawn to the word as having far more value than the term impact. To say that the program had a “lasting impact” on an organization is to say precious little about what was actually different and better. Embedded, however, needs help to have its presence affirmed. The core definition of “fixed firmly in a surrounding mass” actually makes it invisible. My tact was to focus on what program participants could tell me that would reflect embeddedness seen and heard. I also needed to hear that something embedded actually helped the group to achieve at a higher level. Responses from participants in nine groups reflected four themes. Here is what I made of that.
- We are using your question “So What?” in all of our programs. (The question is our way of pursing a result trail. So, you provide services to 50 people. So what? So, 25 of them got a job, achieved at grade level, etc.) I take this response as reflecting an embedded methodology to sort out activities and their consequences.
- We no longer accept “no” for an answer when we fall short of participant success. I like that one as well. The change seems to be in an attribute— conviction and optimism—which predict behavior more than does new knowledge.
- The program gave us a way to be much more intentional. The result focus is now “just what we do.” Intentionality is such a predictor of success that I counted this as something embedded that helps achievement.
- We folded the questions asked and other methods from this program into many other of our programs. Here I am not so certain. On the one hand a new practice in one program spreads to others. On the other, the transfer from program to program may or may not have touched the center of the organization. I know, this may be nit-picking, but I do take words and meanings seriously!
In addition to what was said were two more inadvertent comments heard. Michael and I felt that given our focus on numbers in targets it would be useful to take note of how many respondents put numbers into their project updates with no prompt to do so. I was pleased that most did so.
Second is the relationship between personal and organizational change. In about half the responses the focus was on what the organization was doing differently. In the other half an additional comment was on how the person had changed. I sense a stronger or more lasting embeddedness when differences were reported on both fronts. Enough already. I am ready for sleep, whether embedded or not.