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Writing about Writing by Susan Murphy, Jessica Olson and Eric Wong

We all need refreshers on current grammar and writing rules and expectations. The last time many of us had a writing course may have been college or earlier.  After years of composing documents for business it is easy to get caught in a rut doing things the same way or doing things the wrong way.

The Improve Group staff relies on clear, well-executed documents in every aspect of our work. We write proposals, strategic plans, reports, social media content, and language for surveys and many other pieces that have to reach a myriad of audiences. So, recently a few of us refreshed our skills by attending a 2-day SkillPath Seminar,  Business Writing and Grammar Made Easy and Fun!, presented by Richard Kronick. The course followed an 8-step business process:

  1. Get to know your readers and their needs
  2. Define your purpose
  3. Gather background information
  4. For larger documents, create a mind map
  5. Write a topic outline
  6. Free-write your first draft (then take a break from it)
  7. Edit and format to create your second draft
  8. Proofread to arrive at your final draft

The presenter of the seminar confirmed that writing well is a lifelong process. Meeting deadlines can make it a challenge.  Here are some tips that may help: Have others in your organization edit and proof what you write (these are separate processes and should be done in separate passes through the document).  Keep books or online resources for grammar and spelling handy.  One new idea from the writing course was to create an editing checklist.  You write down a list of challenges or common mistakes you make when writing. For example, your list can include things like: using sentence fragments, weak verbs, confusing words, or improper use of quotations or commas. Then spend time before publishing or sharing to check specifically for the items on your list.

Now tell us: How do you keep your work fresh and flawless?  Do you have tricks that help you to remember common grammar or spelling mistakes? Is there a reference material you would recommend to read or add to our writing library?

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Posted: May 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Around the office, Knowledge exchange, Staff Activities | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

IG Waiver Review Team Reminisces by Susan Murphy

In the spirit of accomplishment, fun and sentimentality the team from the Improve Group who worked on the 6-year Home and Community-Based Waiver Review project for the Minnesota Department of Human Services got together to reflect on their journey.  Leah, Liz, Eric, Danielle, Stacy and Susan remembered their experiences with great people from public health, their excitement at seeing so much of Minnesota, the good food found along the way, and even the weather challenges in getting to some of the counties. Leah tested us on our knowledge of Minnesota in a special trivia contest to see what we learned outside of the project work. Of course Eric, who made it to all 87 counties, won that contest.

Many others added their talents and time to the project including several graduate interns who worked along with us on site visits and helped input and analyze data for reporting back to counties. Thanks to everyone involved and especially to Bob and Jean at the MN DHS who were an integral part of the team – they established the vision for the initiative, kept the process focused on being constructive and helpful to counties, and talked to hundreds of county directors and case managers.

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Posted: March 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

HUD Incentivizes Regional Planning through SCRG by Eric Wong

An interesting piece of news I learned through the Connecting to Markets: Neighborhoods and Housing Markets symposium I attended is that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is actively incentivizing collaborative regional planning efforts through Sustainable Communities  Regional Planning Grants (SCRG).  According to Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at HUD and a panelist at the symposium, the goal of SCRG is to “facilitate and incentivize regional planning and more coordinated development of housing that is more sustainable, more walkable, closer to jobs and helps to make living easier, which should translate into real health benefits.”A priority for the program is to create nontraditional partnerships (e.g., arts and culture, recreation, public health, food systems, regional planning agencies and public education entities) to develop and implement strategies for planning and reinvestment in local communities.  Using an approach like the Improve Group’s recent work in opportunity mapping to assess local nutrition needs and gaps could help in establishing partnerships and priorities.  The process allows stakeholders to describe and learn about the resources and identify opportunities to enhance their local communities.  Opportunity mapping offers a transparent process that enhances collaboration and provides for innovative solutions that can be beneficial to achieving the goals of SCRG.

Posted: February 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Knowledge exchange, Learning opportunities | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Connecting to Community Development by Eric Wong

Recently I attended a symposium titled Connecting to Markets: Neighborhoods and Housing Markets at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.  The focus of the symposium was to discuss current challenges in community development due to the difficult times in the housing market.  Since the inner economist in me was curious about the causes of the depressed housing market and how the public, private and nonprofit sectors are attempting to revive the housing market, I was excited to attend this event.

The symposium was split between two different panel discussions, one conducted nationally via webcast and another discussion conducted locally with local leaders in community development, including the Metropolitan Council.  The topics and ideas discussed during the symposium were enlightening.  Here are a couple things that were covered:

–          The uniqueness of the current housing market: according to Robert Weissbourd, an expert on urban issues at the Brookings Institution, the current conditions of the housing market are not part of the expected cyclical trend, but a fundamental shift  to a housing market that puts greater emphasis on connecting knowledge and innovations to economic opportunities in the local area;

–          The disconnection between stakeholders: the struggle in collaborating between neighborhoods, cities and regions due to the asymmetric understanding of available resources (economic, legal, institutional, etc.) and political control over community development decisions; and

–          The ineffectiveness of current policy: current policies such as tax credits for development of affordable housing in cities have limited or no effect in the current economic environment due to the inability of developers to make a profit.  Combined with the decreasing availability of public resources at the federal, state and local level, it is clear that the policy tools that have worked in past housing downturns are ineffective in the current housing market.

Despite the difficulties that were discussed during the symposium, I see great opportunities where nonprofits, community development corporations (CDCs), government and private sector can work together to address many difficulties in housing and community development.  For example, public-private partnerships are a concept worth exploring due to the lack of resources available for separate entities in the nonprofit, public and private sector.  Other opportunities worth exploring include CDCs working with private and public partners to assess available assets and opportunities available in a specific neighborhood to create a common understanding of the tools they have available for policy-making and resource allocation.

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Posted: January 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Knowledge exchange, Learning opportunities | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Unbanked to Assets Webinar Available

A Webinar of the Unbanked to Assets: The Finanacial Needs of Low-Income Minnesotans Presentation with featured speakers Anne Johnson, Financial Services Manager with AccountAbility Minnesota; Leah Goldstein Moses, President of the Improve Group; and Eric Wong, Senior Analyst with the Improve Group has been posted at:

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/876162472

Employing a mixed-method study using surveys, focus groups, program records, and financial records, the financial practices and needs of low-income Minnesotans were examined to determine 1) Their financial planning, practices, experiences, and service needs; 2) The strengths and gaps of existing financial products and services of mainstream institutions compared to those provided through Alternative Financial Services; and 3) The strategies, tactics and/or services most likely to improve their financial well-being and long-term asset accumulation. 

Thanks to the Wilder Foundation for providing Webinar space for TCRG presentations. TCRG stands for Twin Cities Research Group, which a local network of professionals in research, analysis and applied social sciences.  Many of them work in the academic and public sector.  They are known for holding Brown Bag lunches to allow local researchers talk about their work. 

 To view the recorded webinar you will need to enter your email and name. The webinar will be posted temporarily while space is available on the GoToMeeting site, so enjoy!

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Posted: August 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: About evaluation, Knowledge exchange, Learning opportunities | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Improve Group Speaks on Needs of Low Income Minnesotans

 

The Twin Cities Research Group Brown Bag Speaker Series for Wed., August 10 will feature  a discussion on the report Unbanked to Assets: The Financial Needs of Low-Income Minnesotans.  This comprehensive report was developed forAccountAbility Minnesota (AAM) through the assistance of the Improve Group. AAM has been serving Minnesotans for 39 years by helping them to move out of poverty through providing pathways to increase income, building assets and becoming financially secure, and by advocating for change that breaks down barriers to financial success

Wednesday’s presentation will be give by Anne Johnson, Financial Services Manager with AccountAbility Minnesota; Leah Goldstein Moses, President of the Improve Group; and Eric Wong, Senior Analyst with the Improve Group.

About the topic: “Employing a mixed-method study using surveys, focus groups, program records, and financial records, the financial practices and needs of low-income Minnesotans were examined to determine 1) Their financial planning, practices, experiences, and service needs; 2) The strengths and gaps of existing financial products and services of mainstream institutions compared to those provided through Alternative Financial Services; and 3) The strategies, tactics and/or services most likely to improve their financial well-being and long-term asset accumulation. Our speakers will describe their research design, the successes and challenges in the chosen design, key findings, program implications, and their forthcoming analysis.”

The discussion is free and will take place from Noon to 1:00 pm at the Wilder Foundation, Room 2610, 451 Lexington Parkway (at University Ave), Saint Paul, MN 55104.

Two-page Report Summary:  Summary of evaluation and findings

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Posted: August 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: About evaluation, Learning opportunities | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »