Earlier this week I came across an article in the New York Times on a third option for resolving the fiscal cliff in the United States, though in my opinion they could have been talking about any financial challenge, be it individual, organizational, or communal. When there’s a shortfall, the solutions tend to be framed in one of two ways, cutting back spending or bringing in more income (through taxes in a government scenario): article author David Bornstein suggests that investing in programs that pay long-term dividends to society is the better approach. He provides the example of the Transitional Care Model (TCM), developed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing over the past two decades, that supports chronically-ill older patients after leaving the hospital. These patients and their families face a plethora of challenges when returning home: following medication regimes, accessing local services, watching out for (and interpreting) potential warning signs of complications or relapse. Evaluation evidence cited by Bornstein suggests that the planning and followup support provided through TCM reduced re-hospitalization rates by 30 to 50%, saved $4,000 per patient after program costs, and if replicated across US would save Medicare $10 billion a year without any reduction in benefits.

I can think of two similar examples from my own experiences. Pathways to Education, a national program that provides support to high school students at risk of dropping out of school, was independently evaluated by the Boston Consulting Group to determine the program’s impact and effectiveness. The report found a number of benefits, but the one that stood out for me was the return on investment for the program: for every dollar put in, society received a “return” of twenty-four dollars, based on higher education leading to better paying jobs (and therefore more income tax collected) and lower usage of social assistance (reduced cost) – and that estimate doesn’t include other benefits like better health (strongly correlated with education) and reduced crime rates. Pathways to Education is therefore an example of a both-and solution.

My second example comes from Cambridge (Ontario). During my Masters program, I participated in a tour of a converted social housing unit that played host to youth programs run by a local community health centre. The program served approximately 200 youth per year, with the cost for the space and programming (including staff time) running about $100,000 a year. The representative of the health centre made an apt comparison about value: to keep a youth in the justice system through sentencing and incarceration costs society on average about $100,000 a year, the same annual costs for the youth space. So, if this initiative prevents just one youth a year from entering the justice system, it’s already paid for itself – and again, this analysis ignores any other benefits to health, education, quality of life, and future potential.
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Infographics and Evaluation

Just over a week ago, I started taking a free online course on Infographics and Data Visualization, taught by journalist Alberto Cairo and hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Knight Centre for Journalism in the Americas. Although journalism is not one of Strong Root’s core activities, I’m looking forward to learning more about how to visually present data findings – after all, what use is research and evaluation if the data is locked up behind jargon and massive tables of numbers? Ensuring that the research methods are participatory and accessible to everyone whose voice needs to be heard is only the start: the findings should likewise be understandable and relevant to all key stakeholders.
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News – Saskatoon Community Foundation workshop

The Saskatoon Community Foundation is holding a grant writing workshop this coming Monday, January 21, 1-3pm, at the Cosmo Civic Centre (3130 Laurier Drive). The workshop is free and will focus on applying to the Saskatoon Community Foundation’s grants, but will also provide useful pointers for applying to other grantors as well.

There doesn’t seem to be any information on the Foundation’s website about this event (I learned about it from their email list – if you want to join it, there’s a signup button on the main page of their website), so if you have any questions or would like to RSVP you can contact Don Ewles by email or phone at 306-665-1766.

Blogging Stats and Evaluation

As you can see on the bottom of any page on this site, Strongrootsconsulting.ca is “Proudly Powered by WordPress“, an open-source blogging platform that in recent years has expanded to include Content Management System (CMS) features for websites like this one. I’ve used WordPress in the past for both professional and personal projects and have found it to be a versatile tool: friendly enough for beginners to get up and running quickly, while preserving the ability for more experienced hands to dive into code and tweak to heart’s content. If you need a quick website set up for an organization or new project, WordPress.com provides you with a free site in the form of http://yourproject.wordpress.com , with the option to set up your own domain name (www.yourproject.com) later on.

Anyway, what got me started on this post was a summary of my “2012 year in blogging“, prepared automatically by a WordPress service called JetPack. Pulling together site visit statistics into a visually-appealing page, I’ve learned interesting tidbits like the number of visitors to my site last year could fill four Boeing 787 aircraft, and that while most of my visitors were from Canada and the US, I also saw interest from Russia, Germany, India, and Argentina (those international visits likely coming from EvalCentral showcasing my posts). Although the system is not perfect – for example, it includes static pages such as the homepage on its list of popular blog posts – it does provide a good overview of last year’s stats.
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News – First Tuesday and Resolutions

Happy New Year! I hope that everyone had a great holiday season and that 2013 is off to a good start. I’ll be hitting the ground running this January, starting with facilitating a conversation around social innovation at The Two Twenty tomorrow morning as part of their First Tuesday series (moved to the second Tuesday this month, as very few people would show up for anything at 7:30am on New Year’s Day!). Here’s the description from the Facebook page:

In Saskatoon and around the globe, there is a wave building, and its name is social innovation. Social innovation and social entrepreneurship move beyond the traditional models of charity and service delivery. Social entrepreneurship, crowdfunding, grassroots involvement, asset-based community development – these and many more creative approaches hold the power to change the playing field and spawn new methods of solving complex and daunting social issues, That being said, individuals and groups who drive social change often encounter barriers that preserve the status quo, like funding criteria that privilege certain types of organizations and activities over others, or a simple distrust of new ideas.

This First Tuesday, Brian Hoessler of Strong Roots Consulting wants to know how social innovation can be better supported in Saskatoon, with an eye towards building a diverse network of people and organizations around this topic. As a growing city, we have the opportunity to build our community’s capacity to tackle these challenging issues – be a part of the conversation!

If you can’t make it but want to contribute your thoughts around this topic, drop me a line! I’ll also post a summary after the event to continue the conversation.

Another mini-project I’ll be working on over the next week is a short series on planning for non-profits, using the analogy of the traditional New Year’s Resolutions. Whether it’s getting in shape or improving your programs, a lot of the fundamentals are the same, as are the pitfalls. What’s the best way to avoid having your goals fall by the wayside? Stay tuned.