In episode 66 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Katherine Turner discuss:
Katherine L. Turner, MPH (she/elle) is the founding President of Global Citizen, LLC consulting firm that strengthens inclusive leadership and effects organizational transformation and social impact by advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, public health, human rights, and global competence. As Adjunct Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, she teaches and mentors global leaders on leadership, global competence, and other topics.
Katherine provides strategic leadership on global advisory committees, has founded and led boards of directors of nonprofit organizations, and won awards for excellence in leadership, teaching, public health, and advocacy. She is an internationally-recognized executive consultant, coach, thought leader, speaker, author, and change agent who has worked in English, French, and Dutch across all sectors in over 50 countries to deliver high-impact results for a better world.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Katherine Turner. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Katherine and I talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in a global context. We discuss how the fields of diversity, equity and inclusion and intercultural communications and competence intersect and also how they do not, how globalization and shifting demographics are shifting the field, decolonizing international humanitarian efforts, and how to help people move from awareness to action.
Well, welcome Katherine. Welcome to the podcast.
Katherine Turner: Thank you so much. It's great to be here, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Katherine: That's such an important question. Well, I would begin with my background and my accident of birth, if you'll call it that, that, being born a white middle class person and being, gaining so much unearned privilege and power as a result of that and definitely has had a strong impact on my, my values and my perspective of myself in relation to my life, which is around that I, I did gain so much unearned privilege and I have benefited so much from that and that I just want to work throughout my lifetime to try to create more equity and to equalize that. And then certainly as a queer lesbian, my identities in those ways and the kinds of experiences and discrimination that I've experienced have certainly informed a lot of my work, especially around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And then having a biracial son with a multiracial queer family. That is a blended family with my ex-partner who's African-American and her partner who's African-American, and my current partner who's white and our son who's biracial, that as a multiracial queer family, so many of the experiences that I and my ex-partner and my current partner and our son and are, are co-parents are, have experienced, have really informed a lot of our understanding of the world, and again, the kinds of changes that I'm looking to affect in the world to. According to my company's tagline, create a Better World, for a better world, for my son and, and really for all people. And then I grew up with a very global upbringing, so my family moved around a lot in general, and we lived in London, my middle school years. We also share a history with you on attending the American School in London, London for three years. And my family traveled a lot during that time and. and since then I have lived and worked in a number of different countries. And so that has really informed my understanding of myself as having a global citizenry identity and also viewing everything really from a global perspective. So that has a huge impact on, on the work that my firm does and. And then my family, just on a personal level, just my, my grandparents had, had such a profound impact on me as well as, of course, my parents. And, they really raised us with a strong sense of ethics of most of all integrity. AndI've raised my son with that really firm belief, that integrity, our integrity is our most prized trait and possession and that we, that we need to work throughout our lifetime to embody integrity. And so that's always been number one for me. And that said, I also grew up in a family, a white family that didn't talk about our whiteness, didn't talk about race at all, that that raised me to think that it was. Impolite or not nice or wrong to notice, even notice or let alone talk about race and ethnicity and, and differences. And so that has also really informed my convictions and my commitment to proactively addressing systemic racism and other forms of systemic oppression and discrimination. and I have an aunt who's developmentally disabled. And, and so she also, just growing up and, and seeing her, how her life and, and all of our lives have been affected by her disability has really informed my understanding and my compassion and my. Desire to create a better world for people with differing abilities. And I've just always been a systems thinker too. So I approach problems and solutions from a systems perspective. So that informs the work that my firm does around affecting systemic, broader systemic changes. So I think it's in terms of my upbringing and then also my nature and personality just have really lent themselves well. Being a consultant, running a consulting firm and specifically doing this work around diversity, equity, and inclusion or d e I as well as global intercultural competence and global public health. Yeah.
Carol: There are a lot of common intersections that we have. And yes, and part of the, we, we, we, we found out by accident that we had actually been at the same school overseas together in London. Exactly. During our middle school years. But I just learned another one, which is you, you have an aunt who's developmentally disabled and mm-hmm. I have a brother who's developmentally disabled. Mm-hmm. And I feel like that. I, I also grew up in, in a white family that did not talk about race, that where it was impolite to pay attention to it and all of those common things that you described. But I did grow up with the younger sister of my brother who's deaf and autistic and developmentally disabled, and so was able to see. And experience how the world treated him differently and how he did not fit into systems and all of those things. And I think then also having that international experience certainly enabled me to understand that culture exists and that everyone has a culture and that they all have different assumptions. And to be able to see that in a way that when you're in. and you never leave it. It's very hard to see. And, and one thing that you talked about, you talked about and I, I really appreciate how you grounded your why. And I think really when it comes down to it, everybody's purpose is and what they're doing comes from all those experiences. You're, you're, you're growing up, your family those, those important influences. Your cho , your chosen family as an adult. thinking about the blended family that you have. I'm also thinking about my grandson who has multiple sets of grandparents mm-hmm. and three distinct cultures that he's interacting with. Mm-hmm. through, through that, through those groups of grandparents. So , it's just a different experience that he will have even from mine. So, Appreciating all of that. And one of the things that you talked about was doing d what's called in the United States generally, as I understand it, diversity, equity, and inclusion work. And then also working globally around global competence and intercultural communications. And I've probably been more aware. The field of intercultural communications first and then had learned more about diversity, the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And as I learned about both, I was curious about how each field had developed while they're working in many ways on similar issues. I feel like there's a, there's a very different perspective d e i being rooted in. I, I think if I'm, if I'm correct, the, the. history, the particular history of the United States and our history with racism. But then applied in an organizational context to try to mitigate that. And then, Intercultural communication probably comes out of the experience of, of a previous generation of folks like you and me who either grew up overseas or worked overseas and have that and probably more likely to be white or an elite from an international different country. and yet there's some things from each field that they're mm-hmm. that over overlaps. And then, and I've also experienced where people have no idea that one field or the other exists. Exactly. , I'm curious, I'm curious about your experience with that.
Katherine: Yeah, I've, I've had similar, similar experiences and it is curious to me, I've always felt that I've straddled these worlds and, and many worlds. And that's one of them. Can serve to play as, as a bridge builder between them and to help people understand the interconnectedness of people as well as concepts. And so yeah, certainly when we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion work and understanding that people and companies use different acronyms and language for that. Sure. So sometimes it could include DEIJ for justice or DEIA for accessibility, et cetera. The alphabet soup. The origins are around the realities of systemic oppression and, specifically racism in the US as well as gender sexism and gender equity work in the us. So a lot of the anti-racism and gender equity work has really informed me. I feel that it started more with focus on diversity and then gradually started to encompass understanding that it's, while it's important to have, it is important to have representation and a diverse mix of people. In any workplace or community , diversity is important and not sufficient to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. And so then that recognition of inclusion and then ultimately working towards equity, that even with inclusion where when we take actions to ensure people are feeling fully valued to part. That still doesn't account for the historic and present day discrimination and disparities that exist because of systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of systemic oppression. And that in order to achieve equity, we need to recognize those historic and present day disparities and take specific actions to address them and provide the opportunities and resources that people who have been discriminated against need in order to actually. Achieve equity and that we know will have achieved it when race or gender or other identity markers like that are no longer a predetermining factor for outcomes. And so that's, that's really important. And yet, as you noted when I was years ago, when, when earlier in the field, When I would participate in or facilitate d e i conversations sometimes people in the US would challenge me when I would bring in a global context or want to have a global conversation around d e I and even feel that I was trying to minimize the realities of systemic discrimination and racism specifically in anti-black. System in the US context. To me, having grown up internationally and really understanding, seeing the, seeing issues through a global lens, it's impossible for me to even think about the history of slavery and anti-black discrimination in the us. Without putting it into a global context, because literally obviously black people in the US , came originally from Africa and, and, and then all of the centuries of movement and political and economic and social and other phenomena that has resulted to us being in the situation we're in, in the US and that there are so, Parallels around systemic discrimination in different countries, and I find it incredibly valuable to learn from experiences in different countries and to apply those lessons across the globe. That we have so much to learn in the US from others, what the experiences and wisdom in other countries and vice versa. I think that because of our history of. Thisin the US we're often really indoctrinated to believe that the US is the best country in the world, that we are superior, that we have all the answers. And that's a lot of the work that, that my firm does around global competence is helping people who have been, as all of us who were raised in the west and indoctrinated with this, this false belief to understand that there, there's so much that we have to learn from people in other countries and systems in other countries. And similarly in. Global intercultural competence, again, goes by different terms fields as you do not. A lot of that has come out of thought leaders who grew up with an international, with international experiences or who held positions in which they were working internationally, and then developing models and frameworks and concepts and understanding of intercultural skills or competence, what the elements of those are and what they look like. And how to teach them and how to learn them and how to practice them. And even as global citizens, we have our own global competence model, the framework and curricula that we use in our training. And yet when we look at the history, as you noted, Many of the earlier pioneers, if you will, of and I guess I'm using that term significantly in the intercultural competence fields were predominantly white western people with an international upbringing or ex or professional experience. And there had not been until more recently an understanding and an incorporation of equity. and justice within those models and frameworks. And so as you noted, there really has been historically a disconnect. I wouldI've written papers, journal manuscripts, and I've been a keynote speaker and done a lot of speaking and writing and. Thought leadership and consulting in each of these areas. And yet the communities and fields have been quite distinct until more recently, I would go to conferences and address, talk about the interrelation with intercultural or global competence and d e i and people would give me, looks like these are completely separate fields. And similarly, again, in the d e i space, like the example I shared where people would, some, some people would sometimes question me bringing a global lens and even my motivations for doing that. But, more recently, I think given the popularization of equity and the, and the greater understanding and awareness, and hopefully as we're working on action more recently around equity, I think there has been more understanding and more interconnectedness among those fields.
Carol: Where are you seeing the common points or the interconnections? Where are you seeing people make those, make those links?
Katherine: Yeah, such a great question. Well, first of all, I think that with increasing globalization and increasing. Population diversity. So in the US for example, we're when we think about people who are currently living in the US who are born in other countries who are at the highest point in over a century, and those trends are only going to continue. So when we just look at the demographic data, On populations in the US and populations in many countries, the world over because of increasing GLO migration, because of globalization, more people are moving to other countries or continents for work or for. Sanctuary or for other reasons. And then forming families that are increasingly across CU cultures or countries. And then having children who are increasingly multicultural that the population, the demographics are shifting and we, in the US and people in other countries are becoming increasingly international. And because of migration and diversity and, and multiethnic and multiracial. And so these sh this also affects a shift in cultures, obviously. And and those numbers also that who's in the majority that they, for example, the US will be a, a majority black and brown country you buy, or before the year 2045. So this is affecting huge cultural changes and I think more and more people are recognizing Global, the global nature of all issues, including DEI. And then in the intercultural or global competence fields, there has been the move towards and in other fields, in the humanitarian sectors and, and in the global nonprofit. And development sectors. There's been an increasing awareness around decolonization which at its roots is about recognizing the systemic oppression affected by worldwide colonization and the lasting impact of that, and the need to to identify and work to mitigate the effects of colonization in all of the work. People do internationally, whatever the sector is, and, and those are different terms, but they're still speaking to an understanding of the root causes, history, causes of systemic oppression, the lasting impact in the ways that oppression has been. Inculcated into all of our institutions or major institutions and into our cultures and the ways that we think and act, and then a need to identify and work to disrupt that, which is. Parallel to the work that we're doing around anti-racism, around sec , gender equity and gender around sexual orientation, gender identity and expression around accessibility for people with differing disabilities, et cetera. So, I think people are starting to understand those root causes and, and consequences and impact, and that the solutions on a systemic level are somewhat similar.
Carol: Yeah, thinking about that history, it's always gotten to me that when I hear folks from Europe saying, oh we don't have those racism problems that you have in the US Wait a second. Where did it start? Who were the colonizers? Who came over here and then colonized? The folks who were the integral parts of the entire enslavement system. All of the countries in Europe, and then all of the ripple effects , Some of them having them more directly because of migration and, and , who's come to live in the countries, for example, in, in the UK. But yeah, that just like, wait a second, . Absolutely. It's, well, and then when different, there may be different particularities, but there's so much that's, that's in common there when you're working with organizations that are, that are. , take steps towards the decolonization that you're talking about in that international context. Can you, can you gimme some examples of what's a useful place for people to get started?
Katherine: Yeah, I think first of all, just having accurate information to one methodology that I had helped to develop in a previous role when I was a global senior health systems advisor and manager at, at IPAs, which is an international nonprofit working on women's sexual reproductive health and rights and was a values clarification, attitude, transformation methodology. That's really about helping people understand. Replace inaccurate information with accurate, factually correct, accurate information. And then also really undergo a deep process of identifying and identifying their core values and then linking their core values with their beliefs and their attitudes and their actions. And that's, that's an important methodology that we. But just awareness raising as a, as a starting place for many people in particular, like you and I were describing at the beginning the way the, the situ, the circumstances that we're born into the identities that we have been born into or that we have acquired over our lifetime. For those of us who have identity, identity markers that are part of the dominant group, whatever that group may be, and that's gonna be different in different cultural and country contexts. The kinds of privilege and power that we experience is oftentimes invisible to us unless we take actions to really understand what they are. And then again take actions to work to interrupt. And so there are many people going through the world who don't really aren't aware of the kinds of power, privilege, and power that they're experiencing on a daily basis because of their skin color, because of their gender identity because of their sexual orientation, et cetera, because of their ability, et cetera. And so just having that awareness and, and, and helping people to disrupt that. ignorance, not using that in a pejorative sense, but literally not knowing, not understanding and then inciting people or encouraging people to understand the impact that that has on other people. And I think once people start to understand that by. Moving through the world in this unaware way They are, we all are saying and doing things that can unintentionally in most cases. Some people are intentionally doing harm to others, but in most cases people are unintentionally saying and doing things that are causing harm to others. And once people realize that they're having that impact on others, however unintentional, however good intention, their intentions are, however good their intentions are. Most people are going to feel a deep sense of distress or at least discomfort or distress over this knowledge that they're inadvertently doing that, and then are, would be motivated to want to make changes. And then once people understand that's at an individual level. Once people understand at a more systemic level, the ways that systemic oppression has been, again, institutionalized and is con and is, is continuing to cause harm and discrimination towards people. Even if the people in those institutions are not conscious of perpetuating those injustices. , they will feel motivated to want to, as affect systemic changes in order to create an opportunity f where everyone truly has e equitable resources and an opportunity to advance. So I think it's about appealing to, I, I, I believe that at base, at coremost people are good and want good for others, and that we just need to help them understand how. the ways that we're currently thinking and the ways that we're currently acting may be contrary to our values or our beliefs about what's good and right in the world and what our role is in affecting goodness, positive change or affecting harm. Andwhere do we wanna land on that side? And again, I believe in my experience that most people want to do better. and, and then are motivated and, and, and just may not know, ha, may not know what harm they're causing and then may not, or the, the, the level of harm that they're causing and then may not know what to do about it. And that we need to give them the knowledge and the tools to help them align their values and their intentions with their, with their practices.
Carol: Yeah, I I, I saw an article, or I just read the headline in the New York Times of why d e i training doesn't work, and I feel like I will read the article. So I'm, so, I'm a little more informed than what I'm about to say, but just from my experience, I, I think that sometimes or, or maybe too often folks get to that awareness stage, but, The, the next step isn't taken to help people practice well, what, what would I do differently? They might be told to do this, that or the other. But then when you're in that instance of. An uncomfortable person says something that makes you feel uncomfortable and you, you, you're feeling like you wanna say something, but you're just frozen. Like, how do you get yourself outta that and, and to be able to take some action? What have you seen help people move beyond just awareness to, to being able to feel like they're equipped to, to manage a difficult situ.
Katherine: Yeah, it's a great question. So a number of things. So again, one, just being able to recognize, having the, the self-awareness to recognize in the moment what's happening. And , for many of us, it's only in hindsight or when someone else brings it to our attention that we recognize that something we've said or done has caused harm. Or again, that by doing nothing. in a system that has been designed to favor white people or light-skinned people and oppress brown and black skinned people and indigenous people, that by doing nothing, we are also causing harm. That it's, it's, it's, it's not enough to, to do, to do nothing or to not intentionally do harm to others. That's not, that's not enough because of the way the systems have been designed. And. again, a deeper recognition of that and a, and an acceptance of that. And then, Having people really practice is also helpful to give people opportunities. Some of it is providing some of the language during global citizens training, we will provide some phrases that people can use to interrupt a situation in the moment to give some training on bystander intervention so that , when you're in a situation where you have inadvertently caused harm to someone else, and. Just have realized it or someone else has brought it to your awareness or you witness that a microaggression or a harmful act or comment has just been made. What are some words and what's some vocabulary that you can use? And then also that mindset of commitment. So in addition to giving people the language, in addition to providing scenarios, in addition to giving people opportunities to talk in small groups, even possibly do. Role plays to actually practice it. Because what's true is the more that we practice saying the words, the more that we practice being courageous and intervening, the more comfortable we're gonna become with it. I wanna come back to comfort. And then setting commitments and intentions that we know from the evidence or from the literature, that when people form behavioral intentions, we're more likely to act on those intentions. So in my training, I always ask people at the end to identify what are actions that you will commit to, to do from now on as a result of this training or a result of your a. That you will affect, that you will begin to affect. What can you commit to doing starting today? And then also putting in place what we know is a very. Tried and true method, which is accountability structures. So forming accountability partnerships or groups or as a team or as a leadership group. Again, setting your commitments and then creating accountability structures so that you have shared your commitments and your goals with others. You're, you're checking in with each other with your accountability partner, your.
Support each other when you're running into roadblocks or challenges and, and having people who you can really, who can help you work through those challenges and figure out how to do your intervention in a more effective way. And then as always, checking in. On how you're doing. So asking for feedback and that requires leaders and, and everyone to be more vulnerable and to say, I'm in the process of learning some new skills around intervening. It doesn't feel comfortable to me at the moment. So I'm gonna be practicing these new skills and let me know how I'm doing and, and invite feedback. Is really important. And so all of those techniques are valuable. And then this issue of comfort, which when we think about Tema Ocon and, and others' important work around white supremacy culture, and by white supremacy culture, I mean the full continuum of white supremacy. So in its most extreme egregious form of the KKK and neo-Nazism and all the ways. White privilege and power have been institutionalized and then internalized that we inadvertently perpetuate it and that we could be white people, and it also can be black and brown people or people of color who inadvertently perpetuate white supremacy culture. And one of the traits of white supremacy culture is this belief that we have a right to comfort that somehow. We should not be made to feel uncomfortable. And that's something that I think is really important that I work in my coaching and my consulting with companies and leaders to really have people question this and, and challenge this and lean into a. Are accepting of discomfort. And so often I've, I've been incorporating more somatics or embodiment into our work at Global Citizen. And so I'll often begin a training or a workshop or a talk with asking people to take a moment of mindfulness. A moment of awareness about their bodies and how they're currently feeling in their bodies. And then throughout the training or the workshop or the talk to be aware of what sensations are coming up for them. What are they noticing in their body? Where are they noticing it? What is the. The feeling, the texture, the color, the width, the breadth, the depth of it. And to, to use that information as an, as an important, that noticing as an important source of information about what causes them to feel light and joyful and excited and positive. What causes them to feel distress or discomfort and where there is discomfort to notice. , what the nature of that discomfort is, and then to go back to it later and explore it more so that they can understand it and use that information to inform their actions in the future. And that's, that's a really powerful way of disrupting white supremacy culture and also of helping all of us to become more integrated beings. Because I really believe in one of them. Egregious effects of white supremacy culture is that it has caused those of us who have internalized it to become disembodied, to become, to separate our, our minds and our bodies as though they're distinct from each other, rather than to bring our whole body selves into our lives and work. And so that's something else that I'm. interested in incorporating into our work and also to helping more people to become more fully integrated in this way. And that I think that has, can have a powerful societal impact as well. Yeah.
Carol: There's a, there's a lot in, in what you were talking about, but that, that sense of disconnection that is so, ingrained in white American culture Northern European culture as I experienced it, that very distinct of, Separation, but then also vilification of anything to do with the body. Mm-hmm. So I do appreciate how more and more folks are bringing that to the fore and helping people learn more so that they can be better integrated. And and, and part of the, the description of white supremacy culture to me, in some ways is a description. , any supremacy culture. Mm-hmm. , there are aspects of it that like that right, to comfort anyone who in whatever context and, and not allin some context. The, the, the, as you said, the, the markers, many contexts, the markers of our identity are gonna be in common with who's in that elite group but in some contexts not. And, and so some of those things around right to comfort or power hoarding or maybe some others I think are gonna be pre prevalent and, and, and noticeable in any dominant group in a culture. Absolutely. So it's an interesting thing to think about as well. Well, and
Katherine: a lot more to explore because that has been something that I and my firm are actually really working more on understanding and. And incorporating it into our work. And We are planning to do some work around decolonizing d e i and understanding and advancing d e I with more global perspective and global understanding about how they're under, how they're experienced and understood and practiced in different contexts. And that even the ways that we're approaching d e I may be inadvertently perpetuating. Colonization and there needs to be a decolonization process.
Carol: Can you say more about that, what that means or what that looks
Katherine: like? Yeah, so even just a, a lot when I'm working, I work with a lot of international organizations and so even when we are. Doing our work together. So I haven't really talked a lot about our process, but we always begin with an assessment. So we'll look at secondary data, like any data or survey, survey data or other employee engagement survey. Or demographic data of employee data that we can look at, as well as employee handbooks and bylaws and any organizational documents. And then we also will conduct interviews with key stakeholders, focus group discussions. Obviously there's my observations as I'm working with organizations and. Pulling all of that information together into an assessment of what is the current state of an organization or company. And then doing strategic visioning and planning with the leaders to, to understand what have we learned from this strategic assessment that would inform your strategic vision of where you want your organization to be. And then what are the strategies and steps that we need to put in place to help you work towards that incrementally and. Attaching some success metrics and ways of measuring where you are currently, and using data as much as possible, and data broadly defined as much as possible to understand your current state. And then attaching success metrics to your goals and strategies so that you can measure progress over time and know what, what progress you're making or not making, and then change your strategies accordingly. And so as we're undergoing these processes, another important thing. Step that that we do is to ensure that in our collaboration with our client partner, that we usually are working with a couple of key people in some organizations that might be a D E I. Working group or council that is a representative group of employees who represent different demographics, if they're international or national, different geographies, different levels and roles in the organization, different divisions. And so that's, that's a really key part is that we. Are intentionally selecting a diverse group of people that we're collaborating with who are gonna bring diverse lived experiences and perspectives to the issues. But even in the ways that we work sometimes, getting back to your question is that There's so many ways that white and Western and sometimes those terms can be interchangeable. That white and western ways of working don't work for people in different cultural and country contexts. So some of it is. when we're having a live conversation and we're facilitating a live conversation. So some of what's come up in some of the international companies I work with is for people for whom English is a second language. , hearing a question in the moment and being asked to respond, to give their responses in the moment. For all of us who speak multiple languages, when you're doing it in not our primary language, that's incredibly challenging to be able to understand the question. , think critically about our responses and formulate our response in a secondary or third or fourth language for us. And so being able to provide people with. Questions in advance so that people can have time to think about them, to start to formulate their responses in advance. Also, providing multiple avenues for people to provide input on a given issue. So sure, live conversation is an important one, one important means, but also it could be a survey where for some people, Formulating their responses in writing may come easier in different languages than saying it verbally, and then even in the moment again, providing questions in advance. So what I'm doing now is when I'm going to be doing a training or a workshop or a meeting with an international group, I'll provide the questions that we're gonna be discussing in advance so people again, have a chance to think about them in advance. And then even in the moment giving people the option if it's a virtual session with responding verbally or in the chat. We might have a shared document or a jam board or some other software that people can write their responses in, and that's usually gonna give them a little bit , again, a variety of options to give their responses. So that's some of what we're talking about when we say how to create more globally competent ways of approaching our work together. And then not everyone is going to want to share in live sessions. So even as we're. Co-designing or co. For example, one of the groups I'm working with is an international nonprofit organization and we're co-developing a training series with the d e i working group that comprises representatives from all over the world. And so, in our shared document. , we're, we're creating, we're offering drafts, giving people opportunities for feedback over longer periods of time, having live meetings to check in on how we've incorporated their feedback. Doing multiple rounds of this, where again, people have multiple avenues more time and more advanced notice in order to be able to formulate and provide their.
Carol: Yeah. And I think those are, those are really things that one could do in any context to, to be helpful. For sure. Recently Microsoft has so many accessibility things built into their products and was at a retreat where I accidentally, I, I wasn't paying attention. I accidentally turned on the closed captions and people were just like, oh my God, look at that. And it was great because even in the back of the room they were able to see, they may not have it, it just made that easier, whether folks had a hearing challenge or not. So little there are a lot of ways in which it, it, it, it comes back to that, I guess that sense of universal design when you make it better for. Folks with challenges, you're actually making it better for everybody.
Katherine: Absolutely, yes. Yeah. And as a hearing impaired person, I find that incredibly helpful. Also, that closed captioning really does help me ensure that I can really grasp everything that's being shared. Mm-hmm.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. So just to shift, shift topics now here at the end at the end of each episode, I ask a, a, a, a somewhat random icebreaker question that I have a, I have a box of them that I pull out. So what does the first 30 minutes or hour of a typical day look like for you? Hmm.
Katherine: Yeah. So I do a little bit of mindfulness in the morning just as I'm awakening just to again, center myself in my body and and to take just a notice of how I'm feeling doing a little bit of stretching as I age, I'm finding that. Some routine stretching throughout the day and first thing in the morning have been helpful. Certainly looking at my calendar and, and anticipating the day ahead kissing my partner even this is in no particular order. kissing my partner and um, and playing with our dog and hugging my son. Good morning. And having breakfast these are all. All the usual showering and dressing and preparing for the day.
Carol: Well, that sounds like a lovely way to start the morning. So, yeah. I've started recently with reading and then getting out nice and getting some exercise and some stretching. o, yeah, it's mm-hmm. I'm finding it's really lovely to be able to start the day a little bit slower. Mm-hmm. , mm-hmm. than in the past. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast. What's my pleasure? What's, what's coming up for you? What's, what are you, what are you excited about? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Katherine: Yeah, so one of the areas is what I had mentioned earlier around global citizens and our interns and, and team are going to be doing some research, some assessment, and then some great information sharing with global audiences around decolonizing d e I and understanding. Both DEI concepts and frameworks, and also implementation and practices from a truly global perspective and a more globally competent perspective. And. continuing our ongoing work around global citizenry and global competence. So Global Citizen also has our Global Citizens in Action Leadership Program for young people, and we're always looking for organizations and groups to collaborate with on that. We have curricula, we have interns who assist with the facilitation, and we're always looking for organizations that are serving young people. and would want to collaborate with us because they know the young people they're working with would benefit from this education and training on global citizenry and understanding ourselves as ethical global citizens. And we're working on a project currently about bringing some of the curricular content that we have on this to social media and so engaging. Engaging with TikTok and YouTube and Instagram micro influencers to collaborate on spreading more of this kind of education on global, global citizenry and diversity, equity and inclusion in social media. And of course just our ongoing work on d e I, global competence and global public health are near and dear to my heart. I'm also an adjunct professor at U N C Chapel Hill at the Gilling School of Global Public Health, and I recently collaborated with my colleagues on writing a chapter. For a textbook for public health and healthcare leaders on leadership textbook and wrote the chapter on d e I and cultural Competence for Leaders. And so I'm always excited about it. Doing consulting and coaching with leaders because of course change always begins with leaders and so the more that we can help leaders become more inclusive and effective in their leadership, the more that will affect those changes at a broader organizational level. And I really believe that by intervening at the organizational level, we are also affecting systemic changes because people bring what they're learning in their workplaces out into their families and communities and all of the organizations that they're engaged with beyond the workplace. So as always, it's focusing on affecting change and transformation at every level, the individual, the interpersonal, the institutional and the systemic levels.
Carol: So I love, I love the combination of focus on leaders and their impact on organizations and culture. And then also working with young people, to equip them with skills earlier on in their lives. Career so we're not having to hopefully have as much mitigation maybe to today . Exactly. Let's start now. So I love that combination. I love that combination. Well, thank you so much. It was a great conversation. I really appreciate you coming on.
Katherine: It's been my pleasure, Carol. And thank you. Thank you for hosting this wonderful podcast and thanks for inviting me to join you. I really loved our conversation.
Carol: I am really curious about where Katherine’s work on decolonizing DEI work goes and what emerges from it.
After our conversation I looked up the article in the Times that I mentioned. It was for one an opinion piece. I will link to it in the show notes. The headline if you want to read it is “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good? By Jesse Singal. One of its main points is that there has not been a large study to demonstrate the impact of diversity training. And how the training can sometimes actually reinforce stereotypes and racial bias and create a backlash when they are mandatory. Since most training happens within organizations – private for profit and nonprofit – it is not surprising that no large study has happened – someone would have to fund the study and gain the cooperation of all those folks. It would be great if such a study or multiple such studies were to happen because I can’t imagine practitioners want to create, offer and implement programs that don’t have the intended impact. But I also feel like a lot of the stories about DEI have that bent and it is certainly an attention grabbing headline. In fact – the Times had a podcast episode in 2021 with almost the same title. In the end I think they do a disservice to the people doing their best to address the deeply embedded social ills and inequities that exist. And no, training is not going to shift hundreds of years of history and culture making. Should we look for and emphasize what works – sure. Yet we need to start somewhere.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Katherine, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it! And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
Program Evaluation with Wendy Wolff
In episode 17 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Wendy Wolff discussed include:
- How leading a non-profit differs from leading a for-profit business
- Awareness vs. action
- Why people are scared of evaluation
- Assumptions made when working with communities
- Changing social norms
- Where to start evaluation on an organizational level
- The barriers to evidence-based testing
Activating and coordinating community responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic was how Wendy Wolff began her career in the nonprofit sector. Her early career helped her to build a strong understanding about the value and role of the community in program planning and policy development. She brings nearly 25 years of diverse consulting experiences to her role as Director of Strategic Engagement for Maryland Nonprofits. Wendy has collaborated with government agencies; universities; non-profit organizations; and faith-based organizations to enhance the quality of life within many communities throughout the United States. She uses her strategic thinking skills to help clients synthesize information from wide-ranging sources, reframe problems while uncovering root causes to find refreshing, creative and effective solutions.
Over the past two decades, Wendy has helped thousands of organizations and their people to create brighter futures for the communities in which they serve. Her excitement in working with the members of Maryland Nonprofit’s is infectious. She values the genius that each and every person brings to their role in the sector and works diligently to elevate any person that she engages with.
Ms. Wolff holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health from New York University. She has resided as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver and as an Associate Faculty Member at Indian River State College. Wendy is a licensed consultant with the Standards for Excellence® Institute. Ms. Wolff’s first book, The Letter Writing Project (Blooming Twig Books), was published in August 2014.
Carol Hamilton: Welcome, Wendy. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Wendy Wolff: Thank you so much for having me, Carol. It's lovely to be here.
Carol: So, to get us started, what drew you to the work that you do? What really motivates you and what would you describe or how would you describe your why?
Wendy: Great question. My why started a long time ago. Over 25 years ago. So, I will share why that happened. But one of the things that I love about the work that I do and what jazzes me all the time is that it's a very lonely job, being the leader of a nonprofit, there are a lot of rules and we have this notion in society that it's easier to run a nonprofit than it is to run a for-profit. I’ve done both and I would disagree greatly. I would say that running a nonprofit takes a tremendous amount of skill and finesse, and it's a very lonely position to be at the top because there's a board element and then of course who are your chief volunteers and motivating them and getting them involved yet not having anybody overstep their bounds is a real dance. Trying to find that and being sustainable is how I want to say that. So I think that's a really big challenge and I find that sometimes we refer to ourselves internally at Maryland nonprofits, sometimes as our job is to validate, we do a lot of validating the instincts of executives and supporting the great work that people do, and if they had enough time and enough freedom in their calendars and enough space for strategic thinking, they wouldn't even need us, but we provide that clarity and that moment of taking a break to think about things in a different way. So that's what I love. There's so many other things, but I really want to say how I started my why, how I got my why was: I was at a local health department in Colorado and I was asked - this was in 1993 - and I was asked to sit on a brand new CDC group, and every state was told that you will not get another dime of funding if you don't create community engagement groups, community mobilization groups to help decision makers identify the priorities for AIDS dollars. At the time, we didn't even know about HIV that much. Anyway, long story short, I was nominated to sit on this committee and I was so frustrated. We just went round and round and round and round, it was one of my first professional jobs. It was early on in my career and I'll never forget it. The meeting was being facilitated by the National Civic League. I was like a kid in a candy store. I didn't even know what I was involved in. I just thought it was outstanding that this exists, it was amazing. There's a facilitation team and people are coming all together to make decisions together, but we weren't being successful. So somehow I got myself on the steering committee. Everybody was supposed to check a committee and I'm in this room month after month after month, getting nothing done. So finally, this exact thing happened: I pick up a marker and I jump up and I go ‘Oh my God, who, what, where, when, how’ and I just write it on the whiteboard. I'll never forget it. We got things done! A facilitator confronts me at the end, he goes, ‘do you facilitate meetings?’ And I was like, ‘what's that?’ It felt so right and so good. That's really how I got my start. After that, I started working with the Colorado department of Public Health and Environment, a little bit more through this process and then became a nonprofit executive. I founded a nonprofit to work with intravenous drug users because at the time the rates were skyrocketing and we didn't have needle exchange and all of those things. So that was what really jazzed me which was that somebody has to be the glue to all the genius in the room. I love that role. I love to listen intently and to thread the story so that everybody can hear it clearly. All the same information so that we can act accordingly and together. That’s what I love.
Carol: There's so many things that I want to follow up on from that. I think one of them is your comment at the very beginning where you said that there's this assumption that working in the nonprofit sector is easier, running a nonprofit is easier than a for-profit organization. I've had so many articles about people who come to the end of their career and they say ‘I want to dial back, I'm going to go work at a nonprofit’ or nonprofits are always being told ‘well, people are more business.’ I'd love for you to say a little bit more about, what is it that you believe, or in your experience, really makes it harder to run a nonprofit than a for-profit organization.
Wendy: Maybe harder isn’t the right word. They're just different to me. They're different organisms. Nonprofits have significant cultural rules, they have processes that they follow. I've had several clients over the last seven years at Maryland Nonprofits where they hired a For-Profit Executive to come in and be the new CEO only to be really dissatisfied that all of a sudden the board - here's the bottom line: in the for-profit world, we don't have to answer to our board of directors in the same way. For somebody who has run their own business, someone else's business, or led a for-profit, they are used to making decisions and there isn’t a considerable amount of decision making that an executive director does that doesn't need the oversight of their board. But when they do, that's when there are a lot of problems. It's already a unique relationship because there has to be attention given to the relationship between the executive director and the board chair. That is not a passive relationship, that is an active relationship. That is two people coming together to decide: where are we heading? And they do this every two years. So they get somewhere and when you bring in a for-profit person, they don't always understand that. So you get the lone ranger aspect, which is: ‘why do I have to answer to you?’ But in fact, you do. That's one element that I think is weird. Then the other thing is that relying on sales or product movement for a for-profit, to me seems a little easier. You have an unlimited, potentially unlimited, revenue source, right? It just means that you have to be a little bit more creative. You have to narrow down who your folks are, that you're marketing to. In the nonprofit, you have to figure out really creative, unique ways to sustain salary for everyone on your operating expenses and admin. We have these rules that you can't have administrative overhead costs, right? Well, you can, but you can't always get funded for them. So it's just difficult and hard. And not impossible, but different. And I think it's just harder.
Carol: I think it is. It's so interesting, especially with everything that's going on right now in the country and our democracy. I think that the organizations people spend a lot of their time in - whether they work for a for-profit organization, a nonprofit, or the government sector, obviously, it's government, but in the for-profit many organizations try to have more of a bottom up approach- but ultimately the decision-making and the ‘bucks stops here’ ends with the CEO and the leader of the organization. And they can be very effective by being very top down and very directive and in some ways almost autocratic. And in a nonprofit it's much more of that distributed democratic, division of power, not exactly the same as the way our government is set up, but that key relationship between the executive director and the board chair. The executive director working for the board, the board being a collection of, an organ of people. People who then have to act as one and keep that fresh in terms of new people and. So there's so many more constituencies, you're managing a lot of constituencies. So often, I've heard it referred to as herding cats. I'm sure there's aspects of that in the for-profit sector as well, but I've definitely seen folks who’ve made that switch say that they were even more challenged because there were so many stakeholders and constituencies that they had to think about. Then the fundraising side, as you talk about, it's not that direct, ‘customer to company’ relationship. You ended up having, again, a triangle of - especially in cause-related non-profits- a donor who gives to the organization because they're motivated and for a variety of different reasons. But then the people who actually receive services may be contributing a small amount, may not be contributing anything or large funder- all of that complication of that indirect relationship of how the money flows
Wendy: You just said it. It may be the trick is that it's not harder, it's much more complicated. It's complicated to run a really streamlined, effective, prosperous, sustainable nonprofit. It is. And I don't know if it's complicated in the for-profit world in the same way.
Carol: Yeah. As you said it's really just that in a lot of ways, there's so many things that are different. And the rules, the structures, the processes and the culture, can be very different.
Wendy: This is not to say, ‘don't hire a for-profit person to be your CEO’. This is not to say that, but give them ample opportunity to understand the culture and the nuances of the nonprofit, business cycle and the life cycle of a nonprofit. All of that has to go with that.
Carol: Yeah. You work across a range of different areas, some of them being strategic planning and evaluation. And that's another piece, I think that, in a way, is so different in the nonprofit sector. Especially those working with missions that have a long horizon; you're not going to see change over a long period of time. There may be a lot of different factors that go into being able to demonstrate outcomes, but yet that's so important. I'm curious, how would you define evaluation and why it's important for nonprofits?
Wendy: That’s a great question. The first thing I want to say about evaluation that I've figured out over the last 30 years or so, is that people are definitely afraid - not definitely- people are afraid of evaluation, just that word. The truth is we evaluate all day long. I'm evaluating right now. We evaluate: ‘Should I wear this? Should I wear that? Should I eat this? Should I eat that? Should I wear my seatbelt? Should I not wear my seatbelt? Should I drink water? How much water?’
So the first thing about evaluation is that we do it all day long. That is how we get from moment to moment in this lifetime. We decide where we're headed and we figure out the degree to which we have succeeded. So evaluation to me is, and this is such a sticky part because there's two pieces about evaluation. There is this whole notion of evidence-based programming. And then there is this notion of ‘what are you trying to accomplish?’ And ‘how close are you to accomplishing that?’ I love this phrase and I use it a lot when I work with people around evaluation: “What we're trying to figure out is the degree to which something has been achieved.”
‘Has it been achieved fully?’ And ‘what was that?’ And ‘are there things beyond once it's been achieved fully, that will keep happening? Or has it been achieved slightly? Or middle of the road?’ So when we're evaluating the degree to which our programs are successful, we have to keep that in mind. It's not a, ‘did we do it or didn't we do it?’ It's ‘how did it go?’ And what was accomplished and what, what, and even more importantly, what wasn't accomplished is also-
Carol: Can you give me an example of that one? I think in some ways, I think it's easy for people to kind of- I mean, the place that my brain went when you started describing in that way, it was almost like the kind of tactics in a strategic plan that are like, ‘have we checked these things off?’ But I don't think that's really what you're talking about. So I'm wondering if you'd give me an example.
Wendy: Sure, sure. So I'm going to try thinking on my feet, it’s the end of the day, but the first thing I do want to say is there are four- Oh, dear, this is an evaluation class, isn't it? So there's four-
Carol: We'll try to make it not scary. Because I agree with you, people find that they're just like: “Evaluation. Oo, it's a big E and a big V!” What's that, you know?
Wendy: Yeah, and we have these things where the same terms mean different things. There's formative evaluation and that you execute when you are trying to determine if something will work. Informative evaluation, you are pilot testing, you are asking questions, you are talking to the community before you do anything. Just to find out, ‘Is that this right?’, ‘Is this wrong?’, ‘Will it work?’, ‘Will it not work?’
Here's a great example. Okay, well, I'll get you the example in a second. Then you've got process evaluation, which is widget counting. ‘How many brochures do we hand out? How many meetings did we do? How many people attended the meetings?’ When we do, then we have [an] outcome and impact. Outcome evaluation is ‘what happened and did that change anyone's life, now?’ ‘How has it changed someone's life, now?’ An outcome evaluation to me- first of all, there's also not one school of thought, some people use different schools of thought and timeframe- but to me, timeframe determines whether or not we use outcome evaluation or impact evaluation. Outcome tells me what occurred and how did that-, how was that set up for people's lives to change? ‘Did they change to what degree, what worked, what didn't work’. And then impact evaluation is longer. Longer down the path that says, ‘So what are the results? Did people change? And was it lasting?’ That costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oftentimes, people interchange, misuse, the words ‘impact’ and ‘outcome’. So [I] just wanted to share that because even I think, in my opinion, I know a lot about evaluation. I'm not an expert. I don't like to call myself an expert in anything, but I know I like it and I know quite a bit about it.
So a good example would be, let's say, we did a series of discussions in the community about quitting smoking. Right. What about- let me see if that's the [example] I want to use. Hold on. Oh, let's do nutrition. That's better, that's better. So we have, we're doing a series of discussions and it's been so long since I've been in person with people that I'm like, ‘do we even do that anymore?’ Yeah, let's pretend we're in person. We're doing community discussions, we invite the community in, because we know that that high blood pressure is running rampant in a certain community. We invite people in to help them understand how to control it, right?. And so in the formative stage, we might ask five or six individuals from that community: ‘What should be in our program? What would make this more meaningful? How could we get people to come?’ So we do all that work. We create some networks and we actually get quite a bit of people. We've had 50 people come. It's amazing, right? To two sessions, 50 people to two sessions. Could we say that that was a success? Yes, only though it was a process success. It was not an outcome that 50 people came because we have no idea the degree to which they are going to go home and make it change their lives. So maybe the class was about not using salt because we know that salt is really bad for high blood pressure. Well, the fact is that a lot goes into decision-making. So the question is will two classes [that were] wildly attended- which is great, that's nothing to sneeze at- but could we say that those two classes will have a direct result in people's lives being changed? I don't know. I don't think so. So programs need to use this and this is why the logic model is so interesting and now we're really geeking out.
Carol: Let's just get geeky on this. Tell people what a logic model is.
Wendy: It's so great because the logic model is the roadmap, right? So it gives you an opportunity to go, ‘Where do we want to be?’ And then logically work backwards from where we want to be, where we want the community to be, or our participants at the target population. And then we work backwards and ask ourselves, ‘Well, if we want to be there, does this make sense? Does this make sense? Does this make sense? Does this make sense?’ So, and- at this point, actually in our evolution, and with the internet, there are so many, so many things that have already been evaluated that we could build on the successes of others without just developing new programs. So evaluation provides an opportunity for us to be thoughtful, think strategically and make sure that things are lined up. To get the best result possible for the community. And logic is a great word because if it's not logical, if it doesn't fit, then [you] probably are not going to have strong outcome results. So that was four hours in about five minutes.
Carol: Yeah and I appreciate that because I think one of the things that actually having a group build that logic model for themselves- and it sounds, it sounds geeky and cumbersome, but really it's, ‘Let's map out what our thoughts and assumptions are.’ And by making it a visual, and by going through the process, you have a chance to dig into what those assumptions are. I've worked with a lot of organizations that work in the conservation and environmental field. Oftentimes, especially around their program, their work that's with people - often citizen scientists or they're doing environmental education or other things like that - they can't measure that or demonstrate the impact of that in the same way that they can measure the pollutants in a river, let's say. But so often the vision is that a group of people by participating in their programs will become advocates for their local river, let's say. And yet, when they think about what they're doing in their program, their goals are that people will understand more about the river. Then you have to say, okay, it's kinda like the geometry teacher wanted you to show their math and all your steps. ‘How do you get the people from, they understand a little bit more about their river and they've gone to it and they'd been on it, to this leap of and being an advocate. Like there's gotta be some more ladder, you know? So, sometimes it's, ‘Well, that's where we actually want to get, this is what we're doing over here.’ How do we help people? Or, it's probably a subset of the people. Take those extra steps to move them closer to what we're hoping for them rather than just being a hope.
Wendy: Exactly. And that was a great illustration. You did a good example and we have to be clear when we're writing proposals and talking to funders about what we're promising, because those advocates, no matter, they are fired up, those folks who come to that first session, those environmental sessions. They could be fired up and super excited, but we have to take into consideration what it takes to get from information to action and also the confounding factors that go into it. I could be absolutely jazzed. You could be the best person; I have come to both of your sessions. I walk away so excited and then I go home, and I've got three kids, and I work full time, and I'm exhausted, and there's no time for myself. And even though my intention is to become an advocate, there are other things surrounding me. So what we have to do in program planning and evaluation starts before people walk in the door. We have to think about ‘what's the trajectory of that person?’ And ‘how do we interact with them?’ And is that an okay result that I've come to two things? We've checked the boxes that we've had 50 people at each session. And that's wonderful because that tells us that people are changing in their awareness , but does it mean that they're taking action? And that's a different thing and sometimes the change in action takes much, much longer. And the last thing I wanted to say is, the word assumption is amazing in the logic model, because along that we have, there are so many assumptions that we have to consider when working with communities. And we also have to look at- I love the theory of behavior change by proChaska and DiClemente, which says people go from precontemplation, to contemplation, to action, to maintenance, and to relapse. Tenants relapse, and if you are not in contemplation, I have to know where my community is coming into a program, so that I can figure out if I can help them change behavior. If you don't even think that smoking's bad, nothing I'm going to do is helping you. So we can't push people along. They naturally go through that process. But we have to recognize that when we plan programs.
Carol: It was actually the smoking piece that made me think that just bringing people to awareness, just providing information, has now been proven over time doesn't necessarily create- it can for some people, they will be self motivated and it will create action - but one does not equal the other.
Wendy: And they have to match. And I always look back on- we did a lot with smoking, right? I mean, we used to smoke in elevators, on airplanes. So we did this huge social movement together. Drunk driving, wearing seatbelts; We've accomplished a lot as a community, but we still have the difficulty of helping individuals changing their behavior. So when we are writing our evaluation plans or designing programs, we need to really hone in on: ‘What's the change we're hoping to see and how does everything we do set a person up to eventually make that, take that leap.’ They may not all take it. And how do we know? So we could go on and on.
Carol: Yeah. And what you also talked about kind of, which is an area that I feel like I want to learn more about is: how does that, changing social norms, actually play into this as well? Because we're such social creatures and I, it was so interesting that you talked about smoking. Cause I was at a meeting, a zoom meeting, today and a woman was smoking and I was just so shocked. And whatever 40 years ago, that would have been totally normal. Every single person would have been. So, yeah, it's fascinating. Yeah. So people think it's scary. We just talked about some complicated thing, we used a bunch of different terms. How do folks- Actually what's a place to get started? If an organization isn't doing evaluation yet, or maybe they're doing evaluation, but it's more of the kind of, ‘are you satisfied with whatever we offered, today?’ ‘Did you like the workshop thing?’
Wendy: ‘Did they come and did they like it?’ And the thing is, workshops. So we-
Carol: And that's just one thing that organizations do, obviously they do lots of other things.
Wendy: They do lots of things. And what I wanted to just say about that is, there's a difference between the changes that people make and the intent to change that we cannot say when we do, workshops that people are going to change. We can say that this demonstrates an intent to change, but anyway, how you would start is this.
I teach a lot of evaluation classes actually. And one of them, what I love, what I always go back to and it's - I have my master's in public health and love public health - I think public health (we're witnessing it right now) but public health for years and years and years has been, for decades and decades has been using terminology for evaluation and requiring programs to be evaluated. So I recommend that people utilize public health, evaluation tools. [The} Center for Disease Control has excellent resources on evaluation, and to me that is the most clear version of it. And then there are a lot of books on evaluation, grab one or go on it, but make sure that it's “evaluation made easy.” It doesn't have to be complicated. We are not talking about evidence-based evaluations that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We're talking about, how do we build programs so that they're logical and that we can say, ‘Here's what we think will happen at the end of this.’ And then we have to backtrack and go, ‘Well, if we're saying this is going to happen, how will we know? Okay, we've got to talk to people. How will we talk to them? Will we call them? Will we invite them to a meeting? Do we have to pay them for their time?’ So to me, the resources are- definitely go to the CDC. I can't remember, there was- I can't remember. I'll try to get you a list of resources, but any public health organization that is doing evaluation is I think, light years ahead and has a lot of insight personally.
Carol: Yeah and you talked about that evidence-based work and programming and the investment that takes. But can you just say a little bit about what that is and even if folks, a small organization, can't try to tackle something like that, what can they learn from what other people have done?
Wendy: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So evidenced-based programs are ones that have gone through a fairly rigorous evaluation model to prove that the structure of their programs and the design works. And that if you hold what's called fidelity, if you hold to everything that they say that has to be done, you too can achieve, with your target population, the same results. So it costs lots of money. One of the difficulties around the term evidence-based programs is that it excludes anything that's not been evaluated already within this very formal type of evaluation. It's difficult. I think there's systemic issues around that because it's only the programs that have the money to do evaluation that get noted as an evidence-based practice. But there are other practices that work while there are promising practices, there are lots of things that work. So, I don't want to be political, I think you could Google a little bit about the politics around evidence-based evaluation, that you could see a bunch of the difficulties that exist around it. And I think personally, Wendy Wolff thinks that just because a program isn't an evidence-based program does not mean it's not valuable and changing lives. It just means that it doesn't have the funding to become an evidence-based program. What we need to do - those of us who don't have the money to prove the degree to which our program has been successful for large groups of people - is to keep track of very good notes to make sure we understand who the target population is and what they come to the table with before they interact with us. That [way] we can measure some way or demonstrate the change that has occurred between them before they came in and then after. And it might be anecdotal information, it might not be scientific. It might not be cutting edge data, but it's interesting and profound and lives are being changed. That has to be honored because- I have a great story that I love. This was in West Baltimore a couple of years ago. We stumbled across a gentleman who was- it was in the summertime - he'd create a fire in a fireplace and people could see it from the road and he had hot cocoa and he had a welcome sign. He invited people to come sit around the fire and have a cup of cocoa, chat and they would connect and would exchange information, help each other, and get each other services. Is that an evidence-based program? No. Was it making a difference? You can bet your butt it was. People were connected. People were getting resources. People had friends, they weren't alone. Those are all good things.
Carol: Yeah. Even if you don't go to this step of implementing measurement processes, just the fact that you've had a conversation to unlock those assumptions, I think can, bring about shifts in the program, in the staff and the board, around the understanding of what you're trying to achieve. just that process I think can have impact and can be valuable. Yes.
Wendy: Then my last plea is to carve out time at the beach before the program begins so that we- once people walk through the door, we've lost an opportunity for measurement. So we want to understand, we want to really create some thoughtful time to understand what it is that we want to collect along the way. And I want to tell you, easier said than done. I myself have been in the middle of a program and been like, ‘Oh, we haven't done any evaluation indicators yet.’
The idea is that we can never go back. People can't go unlearn something. So we need to know, if we want to capture the degree to which people have changed, we need to know where they come in at. Then we can say, even if it's not this scientific evidence-based program, that change in a person's life is huge and storytelling is enormous. And right now I'm leaving a fairly large project and I- So today, just today, one of the participants in this big cohort that we're leading wrote me a note and said, ‘I'm so excited. I feel great. I'm getting huge results with my consultant. I see that we're going to be in a better place at the end of this.’ (Which is two years) And I save that. I was like, I'm going to need this at some point. It's not scientific, but I can go back to it in two years. I can go back to that and go, ‘This is where he was.’ And actually I wrote back, ‘Can you be more specific?’ So I can go, ‘Oh, this guy was at, didn't have this, this, this, and this. Now look at him.’
Carol: Yeah. And I think that point of, helping, figuring out a way to capture some of that, essentially that baseline of where folks are starting from, you're always wanting to develop a program that meets people where they are. So then also documenting that starting point where they are, is key to be able to then see the difference.
Wendy: Yeah, yeah. And report it. Stories, stories do a lot. Storytelling is amazing.
Carol: Right. It doesn't have to be, it doesn't all have to be numbers. There is plenty of, from a qualitative point of view- Very valuable, yeah. Well, we certainly got geeky on program evaluation, but I mean, it's so important and I do think that, try to demystify it a little bit because, for the majority of nonprofits, smaller organizations, small budgets, and yet they're being- hard to get started in that realm and hard to know. They're dealing with so many different things and juggling a lot of different things to build that in as well. Seems hard. but the benefit, well, I mean, what would you say? For those smaller organizations kind of. Why is it worth spending the time to do it?
Wendy: Well, to plan out an evaluation strategy?
Carol: Try to incorporate it, yeah. Evaluate a little more, just a little more, maybe evaluation into your, into your, yeah-
Wendy: Just a little more, yeah. First of all, I think it will be relieving because we are peppered or pummeled with the question of, ‘How's your program doing? What's the results? What's the impact? What's the outcome?’ And that makes everybody so nervous. So the more thoughtful we can be to really think about ahead of time how we will know we've succeeded or the degree to which we've succeeded. That'll help reduce our stress because when we're asked that question, we'll go, well, here's how. These are great- this happened to me just this week. I had to write a report to a funder and I was like, ‘Oh, well, I have that all written because I had been collecting this data all along. Just put it in this file, put it in the file.’ And then when it’s time to write the report, there it is. So I think anything we can do to, to collect, to - I don't want to say the word prove, cause I don't like that - to demonstrate how we are making a difference, whether it's immediate or short term or it has potential for longterm, any way we can demonstrate that it will build our confidence and it will support us and it will help our sustainability.
Carol: Well, at the end of each episode, I ask, a somewhat random icebreaker question. So, if you could have any fictional character as your friend, who would you choose and why?
Wendy: All right, wait a second. Any fictional character as my friend. Oh dear. Hold on. I got to scan through my shows and stuff. Let's see. Fictional character. I really like Lisa Simpson from the Simpsons. I love her desire for good. I like Lisa's musical talent. I like that she doesn't give up on her hope and her commitment to what's right and just in the world. So I really like Lisa Simpson. So off the cuff, not having known that question, I think that would be one of my choices and I'm sure there's better ones, but that's the one right now.
Carol: Well from how you described Lisa, it sounds like she'd be a good addition to the nonprofit sector.
Wendy: Lisa Simpson would be a great CEO and a great activist.
Carol: All right. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you or emerging in the work that you're doing?
Wendy: That's great. Good question. I am really excited that- my role at Maryland nonprofits that maybe people don't know because they see me in the consulting role is that my title is ‘Director of Strategic Engagement’ and my job is to - we restructured a couple of years ago - So the consultant group is in my department. So I am still actively involved, but I'm excited. My role of strategic engagement is to build relationships, bring and dot connect, which I love to do. So what I'm excited about this year, I have three priorities. My three priorities are- Carmen Marshall, our director of consulting, runs a beautiful racial equity program. And Carmen is one of the most lovely human beings I've ever met and I am looking forward to helping her to download all of her thoughts and get that developed and put into a plan we can execute. So I'm really excited about that. I'm super excited about our legal consulting program. Patty Morton has been doing legal consulting for Maryland nonprofits - she's our general counsel and she's also on my team- and up until two years ago, most of the work Patty did was a lot of startup work. She does mergers and other great stuff, but what we have seen over the years is people really love Patty. She's amazing and they need that help, so I would like to build Patty's legal consulting program. That's something else we're going to do. Then finally, the claim to fame for me is our Standards for Excellence Institute. That's my third priority to help more folks understand the standards and understand why being a licensed and accredited organization could be a good choice for them and how to utilize the standards. Those are my three strategic engagement focused areas, and I'm super excited about them.
Carol: That's awesome. And I love that you've got three because as a person who helps groups with strategic planning or your personal planning, three is the magic number. That's just enough. That's just not, not too few, not too many, to really have focus. Well, thank you so much. It's great having you on and we'll put links in to how now people can get in touch with you and learn more and about the things that you're talking about. So it was great, I appreciated the conversation and the chance to geek out with you on evaluation.
Wendy: That's so great. Thanks for having me, Carol. This was a treat.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, as well as the Mission: Impact blog with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.