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Further The Work

News Bulletin 

July 24, 2009 

Dear Rebecca,

Every once in a while, I come across a "eureka!" resource, one that actually gets my heart racing. (OK, no comments from the peanut gallery; I already know I'm a bit strange.)

Well, yesterday I came across just such a report, and I want to share it with everybody, right away.

Regardless of whether you're a community-based nonprofit organization, a policy-focused think-tank, a private foundation, a municipal city manager, or a school-district superintendent: this research could further your work.

Published by the estimable consulting and resource organization FSG Social Impact Advisors and funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, this new report, entitled "Breakthroughs in Shared Measurement and Social Impact," examines the transformative potential of emerging web-based information-management systems to advance the development of coordinated, integrated multi-sector systems for social interventions.

Having read that sentence, you're getting goosebumps, too, right? No!!??

Well, I'll put it another way:

Let's choose a concrete, real-world example: the "achievement gap" in education, for example, in which African American and Latino students typically lag far behind their Asian American and Caucasian peers in educational achievement. Such a gap, left uncorrected, is commonly associated with a whole host of easily identifiable implications and inequities for students of color: lower highschool graduation rates, reduced lifetime earning power, increased incarceration rates, higher rates of teen parenthood, diminished quality of life for both individuals and their families, and fragile communities.

So, let's say we are -- collectively -- determined to eliminate that gap, to redress the inequities it reflects and fosters. How best to do that?

Well, let's start with the assumption that it would help to know who's doing what in this field of interest, and how well they're doing it, and what's being measured, and what they're learning, and how best to coordinate our efforts, and what we might accomplish if we could actually explore the collective wisdom, and integrate our new information, and provide equal access to that information, in real time, to whomever is interested.

I know, it sounds so obvious. But it's so uncommon. Think about it: If you're a CBO providing school-based services, for example, you probably engage in several sets of specified activities (each targeted to a specific subpopulation at the school), and then you have to produce customized reports about those activities, expressed in methods specifically tailored to each of your sources of funding. So you produce one set of reports to satisfy a county funder's interest in your overall "units of service"; another for a foundation supporting your services for children in the Kindergarten program; a bunch more for the school district; still another set for a donor underwriting your after-school program.

As a result, you probably devote a lot of time to detailing your activities, and trying to gather relevant data (however you determine that), and slicing up outcomes, and filling out reporting templates. But do you have the chance, and the tools, to consider what you're accomplishing overall, and to explore the progress being made by others in your field, or to enable others to analyze your data to inform their work, as well?

Or, take another example: Let's say you're a funder interested in supporting the transformation of a struggling district in an urban community. If so, perhaps it would help if you had real-time, no-barriers-to-entry access to information about the work being done by other funders in the area, whether corporate, private, or governmental. What if you could search a database to review the array of CBOs working on that issue region-wide, or if you could run a metrics-based report on the outcomes being achieved across sectors? What if the database also included information on local demographic trends, crime statistics, and school performance measures, accessible in either granular local detail or widespread regional aggregate, according to your interest?

The research report that got me so excited yesterday -- "Breakthroughs in Shared Measurement and Social Impact" -- explores the potentially transformative capacity of web-based, adaptable information systems. Notwithstanding the specific differences among the three types of approaches reviewed in FSG's report, at heart each of these has the potential to allow multiple stakeholders to contribute to and benefit from a common database, while at the same time fostering the development of the collective and public wisdom.

I encourage you to read it, whether as the 4-page Executive Summary or as the full 51-page report complete with four case studies, a set of recommendations, and a list of additional resources.

You can find the reports -- and lots more information -- on FSG's website; click here.

Plant gowing in crackWant more from us?
  • Look for the upcoming August issue of our newsletter, Furthermore... for an introductory review of the topic of nonprofit evaluation.
  • Check out our website to read about our work.
  • We'd like to build out our Resources page to serve as an ever-evolving repository of information to support the greater good, so please feel free to e-mail us with suggestions of organizations or resource materials that advance social justice.
And as always, we welcome your comments and questions, so please e-mail us any time, at
Best to all,
Rebecca's signature
Rebecca Brown, MA, CFA, CFRE
President, Further The Work
Bringing for-profit resources to the nonprofit world

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