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Measuring the Impact of Communications

Image of stakeholders

Many of us have fond memories of PBS, whether it be watching a documentary with family or engaging with development programs in school. PBS is continuing its mission to serve the American public with high-quality programming and services by launching the New Generation Initiative (NGI). The 18-month collaborative pilot spans six PBS stations across the U.S., and encourages child caregivers (including families, friends, and neighbors) to sign up for a text messaging service provided by the Colorado nonprofit, Bright by Three. This initiative has funding from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The David & Lucile Packard Foundation.

Bright by Three provides an innovative texting program that combines expert child development tips, activities, and local events to adults caring for young children in Arizona, Colorado, Fresno, Indianapolis, New York City, North Carolina, and San Antonio with the goals of:

  • Increasing parent and caregiver engagement; and
  • Strengthening parenting and caregiving skills.

Rocky Mountain PBS is leading the initiative, and has engaged Spark Policy Institute to learn how the different PBS sites collectively had an impact in early childhood education in their communities, and on the parents in the communities.

But how do you measure the impact of a public awareness campaign?

Because the pilot must demonstrate accountability to its funders and organizational leaders as well as improving and adapting as it is implemented, Spark Policy Institute is using a strategic learning approach. This means finding the balance between what is easy to measure (such as text sign-ups) and what is most useful (whether caretakers had a shift in the attitudes, strategies, actions, etc.). A systematic review of qualitative data can help surface rich and compelling information. We’re also using a collective interpretation of data collected in real-time, to inform the campaign regularly and enable the greatest outcome in child development.

We look forward to sharing what we learn through this project, and invite you to apply strategic learning in your own work by exploring our Tools for Social Innovators: Strategic Learning Toolkit.

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Improving the Attendance Landscape for Colorado Youth

A new report commissioned by the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Council’s Low-Risk High-Needs (LRHN) Committee highlights the need for increased cross-system collaboration and holistic programming to support Colorado youth with school attendance problems.

Currently, youth who have four unexcused absences in a month or ten unexcused absences in a year are considered truant, and begin a complex journey through the juvenile justice system. This creates a drain on resources for schools and courts. Youth who are detained as a result are 14.5 times less likely to graduate from high school, and are significantly more likely to commit subsequent criminal offenses.

The report gathered evidence from stakeholders and four truancy demonstration pilot programs to provide insight for ensuring Colorado youth with high social service needs receive the necessary support to gain an education. Highlights of the report include:

  • Child Welfare can better serve its function in truancy cases if brought in early to serve a preventive role.
  • Differing data requirement practices across districts and school grades (K-12) hamper early intervention and the ability to get a true understanding of effective and ineffective practices.

The report also provides a “Collaborative Framework to Improve Educational Attainment.” This stresses the importance of partnerships, prevention and intervention approaches, and sustainability in supporting Colorado youth and families in the education and justice systems. This framework, and more detail on best practices gleaned from the pilot sites are available in the full report.

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Using frameworks to communicate systems level insights

Collaborative Framework to improve school attendance

Laura Trent, Esq., Senior Consultant at Spark Policy InstituteThe Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Council has a tall order – prevent youth from entering the justice system or from penetrating deeper into the justice system. The goal cannot be met through program implementation alone. The systems serving the youth must change how they work together (or begin working together) in order to meet the needs of “at-risk” youth.

In 2013, the JJDP Council recognized the need for an alternative approach to addressing “status offenses” (only a crime because of a youth’s age) like truancy (missing too much school). They funded four truancy demonstration pilots in Colorado to work across systems in order to prevent and intervene in truant behavior.

Our new report, Evaluation of Truancy Prevention and Early Intervention takes a retrospective look at the four pilots and includes reflections from stakeholders in schools, courts and the justice system. This led to our Collaborative Framework to Improve Educational Attainment (below), which identifies critical areas and components Colorado’s broader juvenile field must address to work together to improve school engagement.

Collaborative Framework to improve school attendance
This framework outlines the importance of partnerships, prevention, and intervention approaches, and sustainability in supporting Colorado youth and families in the education and justice systems.

At Spark, we understand the importance of connecting theoretical frameworks with on-the-ground  perspectives to ensure our work is actionable.

We facilitated a dialogue with the JJDP Council on the evaluative findings and asked whether it resonated, what was missing, and how it could be built upon. We were able to map the framework to the reality of the stakeholders needs because of our participatory approach (see Spark’s toolkit on Tools for Engaging Nontraditional Voices). Their input made clear that there is room for the framework to not only serve as a guide to improving school engagement, but more broadly to meet the needs of at-risk youth through a collaborative approach.

For more about the work of the truancy demonstration pilots and truancy in Colorado visit the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice website.

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Case Study: Emergent Philanthropy

A new article in the Foundation Review describes the tools we used in partnership with Harder+Company and The Civic Canopy to support an adaptable design for The Colorado Health Foundation’s (TCHF) Creating Healthy Schools funding strategy.

The article dives deep into the principles of emergent philanthropy, and how TCHF worked to co-create their strategy, funding and process with key stakeholders and grantees in Colorado’s school system.

One important lesson learned? When one funder shifts its funding approach to be more emergent, it can put a burden on grantees who are still responding to the more traditional expectations of their other funders. It’s also really hard for one funder to solve all the shifting issues in a complex system.

Enter collective emergent philanthropy – a process where multiple funders combine efforts to help solve a problem through an emergent approach guided by a systems-level collaborative.

By collaborating with other funding partners interested in addressing a systems issue at the outset, funders can:

  1. Better focus a complex field by pooling and leveraging resources;
  2. Disperse power and mitigate vested interests; and
  3. Further strengthen and build partnerships to adapt to new challenges and continuously improve efforts.

Read more about TCHF’s implementation of an emergent philanthropy philosophy in Insights from Deploying a Collaborative Process for Funding Systems Change.

Preventing Truancy in Colorado: A Case Study

Preventing Truancy in Colorado focuses on Radical Possibilities, a prevention pilot run by La Plata Youth Services, providing an overview of community in school partnerships and the importance of the community in addressing truancy, as well as the process and experiences of Radical Possibilities. The purpose of the pilot is to learn and document the causal factors of truancy, effective prevention strategies to keep youth in school and on track, academically and socially while increasing school and student engagement, and the systems changes needed to successfully address truancy.