Saturday, October 30, 2010

Evaluating Impact: Storytelling Versus Metrics, Which Matters?

Stories can capture the heart of a person like a number or statistic never can. Even mind-boggling statistics are just that – incapable of being fully processed and affecting us into action. Human experience on the other hand, touches us deeply and creates empathy that we are unable to ignore.

On Thursday, I listened to Jessica Jackley (co-founder of Kiva and founder of Profounder) and Jennifer Aaker (Stanford Business School Professor and author of The Dragonfly Effect) talk about the power of storytelling. It was at a Philanthropy and Civil Society event at Stanford University that was supposed to be on social media, but focused on something much more enlightening: the power of people's stories.

Many people are talking right now about the importance of metrics in measuring nonprofit impact. Metrics quantify activity and changes that are seen as a result of a program, service, or policy. While there is a place for metrics and quantifiable successes, I believe it can’t be the only way we assess change.

While some questions are amenable to a single numerical answer, many are nuanced and require skill in listening, capturing, synthesizing and communicating in creative qualitative ways. The latter begins through asking thoughtful questions and consequently by listening to peoples’ stories.

There are two reasons that we must consider the questions we ask about impact and how we gather information to answer those questions, whether through collecting numerical data or capturing stories.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Veritas Health: Evaluation Unplugged

Greeting from California!

Veritas Health has officially relocated to the West Coast. I'm excited to start putting my newly minted Harvard degree into action. I am now working for FSG, a nonprofit strategy consulting firm, in San Francisco as an evaluation consultant.

I've been learning every day how my public health training translates into skills and expertise as a strategy consultant, and I'm sure it will take a long time to figure out how (if at all) those two totally align. But what I love about my job right now is getting to integrate my data and analytical savvy with advice for decision-makers in real-time, which is a very cool opportunity.

In addition to my day-to-day activities (mostly related to data collection and analysis), I am learning about a whole new sector: funders! I am living and breathing philanthropy in a way that I never would have expected two years ago.

So what does this mean for Veritas Health? Even though I have put off writing in this blog for the past few months, I believe there is an important role that this blog could play in the field. I hope one day this project goes beyond just a place for my friends and family to find out what I've been thinking about, but really provides stories and tips that are useful to others promoting public health!

That means that I am recommitting to writing regularly in Veritas Health. You'll see a new approach to public health issues on the site: one that places considerably greater emphasis on evaluating social sector initiatives. I hope that this will provide a forum for individuals, nonprofits, and funders to be inspired, learn, and make a greater impact in their community.

Happy reading. More to come!