Since I started Strong Roots Consulting just over two years ago, blogging has been an important component of my work. For me, sharing ideas and resources through this website is not just a way to introduce myself to the community and demonstrate my knowledge and strengths (though it has helped in that regard!): I also hope that it can be a source of knowledge, inspiration, and support for those working in the non-profit sector and elsewhere to create positive change.

Over the past few months, my pace of posting has definitely slowed down. Recent travels and an increased workload have cut into time I would spent writing: I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an inverse relationship between the number of active projects on my plate and my posting frequency! However, if blogging is an important task for the reasons outlined above, I would be able to find the time to do so. What I came to realize is that over the past few years, I had spent too much time writing and not enough time reflecting.

I can’t remember who came up with the (slightly tongue-in-cheek) idea that “ready, aim, fire” should be changed to “ready, fire, aim”, but it’s stuck with me as an encouragement against overplanning to the extent where it inhibits action: getting stuck on the “aim” phase, but never taking the shot. If I waited until that perfect moment, I would not have completed 70 posts to date, or perhaps not even started consulting! That being said, I’m starting to think that I drifted too far towards the other end of the spectrum where I was constantly firing without asking myself exactly what I was aiming at.

As a side note, I have an idea for a post about the abundant use of military and business terminology in the non-profit sector – this post may serve as an incentive for me to finally expand it and get it online!

Who’s My Audience?

In an example of serendipitous timing, evaluation blogger Chris Lysy recently released a guide on how to start blogging, with tips that to my eyes are equally applicable for re-starting the habit. One question that stuck with me is “Who”. Who is my audience? Chris suggests thinking of a real person to write the post for: who would that be for this blog? Three people come to mind:

  • A former colleague working in the nonprofit field who has some responsibilities around programming and planning, who recognizes the importance of research and evaluation to the work but does not have a formal background in evaluation.
  • A fellow changemaker connected to the nonprofit field who sees the good, the bad, and the ugly in the sector, and wants to act as a catalyst for change and growth (including by serving as a “critical friend” voice when necessary).
  • Myself – if I won’t ready my own blog posts, who will? In all seriousness, I have found blogging to be a great tool in my own professional development. Taking new ideas and concepts, integrating them into my own knowledge, and summarizing them for a broader audience is great mental exercise. I’m not alone in recognizing this benefit: Chris Lysy’s guide quotes nonprofit blogging superstar Beth Kanter, who likewise uses blogging as personal learning and reflection time.

(Note that I don’t mean for this list to be exhaustive: for example, I hope that my writing will appeal to other practitioners in the evaluation and community-based research field.)

Something to Talk About

Although figuring out “Who” was useful, it was not enough to get me back on the bandwagon. For that, I needed the “What”. It wasn’t until I randomly found a blog post planner on Productive Flourishing that my loosely-connected thoughts came together around the idea of categories. What kind of posts have I been writing thus far, and what do I want to include going forward? Some preliminary ideas:

Evaluative thinking. I want to help build capacity in organizations to incorporate sense-making and interpretation into their everyday work by helping them ask “What is the data (be it statistics, stories from clients, or trends in the broader context) telling us?” We do it all the time in our day-to-day lives, and posts in this category aim to show that evaluation isn’t as scary and unfamiliar as one might think. A Taste of Evaluation and Time to Count would both fall in this category.

Research and evaluation tips and methods. Pretty straightforward, with some ideas and techniques to try, along with pitfalls to avoid. Are you asking The Right Questions? What are some good approaches for conducting Summertime Evaluations? I hope to share my own ideas and experiences, as well as great resources available I find online.

Planning, strategy, and design. Like I wrote above, fixating on the “fire” stage of “ready, fire, aim” can be great for overcoming that initial inertia, but not sustainable in the long run. Planning in my mind has a close link with research and evaluation, especially in innovative approaches like Developmental Evaluation that bring evaluative thinking into the program design process. Asking questions – Who’s Not Here? When Does [the program] End? And most importantly, how do you fill out that “evaluation” section of the grant application? – can help contribute to the development of sound plans and strategies, and also provide support when those plans don’t survive their first encounter with reality.

New Developments in the Non-Profit / “For-Impact” sector. Simply put, it’s an exciting time to be working in this field! While we face challenges around funding (a perennial issue for sure), calls for accountability, and increased complexity of social issues, there’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm around approaches such as social enterprise, as well as new models of conceptualizing our work, such as the SPEC model. I hope to contribute to the conversation, both online and in person, around these new ideas and concepts.

Of course, these aren’t perfect categories: there will be overlap, and some items won’t fit in at all, such as company news and developments (like this post). I’m also thinking to try out some new formats like “Ask Strong Roots” or interviews with other changemakers which likewise stand alone.

What Next?

So, now I have a Who and What to fit in with the Why I identified above: next step is the How. I have some post ideas on the backburner that I can see slotting into these categories, and using a tool like Productive Flourishing’s blog post planner will help me get a start on them. I may also go back and try to retrospectively categorize the posts I already have, but that’s low on my priority list right now – I’d rather spend the time writing!

Let’s hear some feedback! What do you think of these categories? I’m also brainstorming ideas for a blog name that fits this renewed focus, and will come up with a reward for whoever comes up with the name I end up using.