Water touches all aspects of life in our state, including health, industry, and recreation. Even the name Minnesota—from a Dakota word meaning "land where the water reflects the sky”—demonstrates the importance of water in our lives. It is this deep connection that inspired an unlikely partnership of state agencies and six local communities to create We Are Water MN, a traveling exhibition that celebrates Minnesota’s love affair with water and engages residents in caring for this precious resource.
One important aspect of our work that I am constantly reminded of is how creating space for clients to contribute their specialized knowledge leads to innovation and great ideas in evaluation projects.
Here at The Improve Group, we have had the pleasure of developing relationships with certain clients, including some we’ve watched grow through our capacity-building partnerships. We value this type of work because of the importance we see in equipping communities and organizations to navigate complexity and have sustained impact. One client we have done extensive capacity building with is VocalEssence, a Minneapolis-based choral music organization.
You may have heard the saying “What gets measured, gets done.” In Minnesota, nearly every program, initiative, or collaborative effort has an evaluation component. With the practical application of so many different evaluations, we wondered: What are the conditions that make an environment fertile for evaluation – and evaluators?
Here are 4 factors that make Minnesota a great place to be an evaluator:
1. A vibrant nonprofit and philanthropic economy
We recently facilitated a 2-hour Theory of Change workshop with 30 youth and adult members of the Minnesota Youth Council, an initiative of Minnesota Alliance with Youth that empowers youth to exercise their voices, opinions and ideas to take action on youth issues across the state. The purpose was to gather their input as to which issues concern Minnesota Youth Council, what its strategies are to address them, the expected long-term outcome of their work, and ultimate vision of a better world.
Traditional evaluation approaches can miss important information by failing to account for context or differences across communities. Using a Community-Responsive Approach to evaluation engages stakeholders for better data, better relationships, and more fun!
Ultimately, community members know their communities best.
Community members and stakeholders can provide critical input to evaluators in every stage of an evaluation – something The Improve Group has learned yields the most comprehensive and authentic findings.
From our work around the globe to the thought we put into our new office, The Improve Group’s public benefit takes many forms. We recently described the many ways we support positive social change with our very first report as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC).
The Improve Group is launching new practice areas throughout 2017. These practice areas bring together staff from across The Improve Group to learn more about specific topics and develop deeper skills for applying evaluation and planning to these topics – ultimately enhancing our project work. This effort is also linked to our strategic plan in several ways, such as supporting staff interests and expanding our network of partners.
People with a variety of communication barriers—particularly those who are Deaf, DeafBlind, or hard of hearing—can face a range of challenges in using standard telecommunications equipment. Indeed, communications barriers are part of the reason that the Deaf and DeafBlind communities have been frequently underrepresented in broader studies on social services. In order to truly understand the specific needs of these populations, researchers must use carefully designed tactics and tools that align with a range of approaches to communications.
We are very excited to announce that The Improve Group is launching new practice areas in 2017. These practice areas will bring together staff from across The Improve Group to learn more about specific topics and develop deeper skills for applying evaluation and planning to these topics – ultimately enhancing our project work. While they are just getting started, the practice areas will draw on some of the experiences and relationships we’ve already built.