Network Impact is looking forward to 2016! As a team, we’ll be exploring new themes as well as deepening our work in some key practice areas. Here are a few questions we’ll be investigating in the coming year…
In what contexts are online communities most useful to networks?
What are best practices for creating and managing online communities that enhance network connectivity, alignment and action?
For several years we’ve been learning from practitioners about challenges and successes in this area. We’ve also developed some resources for tracking the effects of digital platform use on individuals, their organizations and the communities in which they work. (You can read more about these projects: Civic Tech Assessment Guide and Community Commons.) We are now compiling our top lessons learned and will have a blog post on the topic early this year.
How can funders track and improve the network impact of their efforts to connect people at convenings and retreats as well as in online environments that bring diverse groups into contact with one another?
Over the last year, we’ve fielded an avalanche of questions about social impact networks (of grantees, investees, fellows, awardees) that grantmakers hope to catalyze by creating environments in which people with related interests can connect. Our guest post for Philantopic discusses what we learned from a social network analysis of the Durfee Foundation’s Stanton Fellowship. This year, we’ll be looking at strategies including human-centered design that aim to boost positive network outcomes in this area. We’ll also be exploring frameworks and tools for evaluating these “mass-weaving” efforts focusing on the value they produce for individuals, organizations and at the field level.
As big data, and even “medium data” become ubiquitous, who is successfully leveraging data and technology for social change and how are they doing it?
In our work with Kaiser Permanente and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, we spoke with dozens of grantmakers, innovators and change agents in multiple sectors to find out how funders can catalyze and spread the use of data and technology to advance social change. What we found is that most organizations, including funders, are struggling to use data and technology well. It will take a concerted effort, and strategic investment, to bring the social sector up to speed. In the coming year, we’ll be looking more closely at network initiatives in this domain such as strategies for connecting technologists to nonprofits, to each other and to each other’s open source projects.
In early December 2015, Senior Consultant, Anne Whatley, partnered with Tyler Norris, VP of Total Health at Kaiser Permanenete to share findings from recent research on the use of technology tools for data mapping, analysis, visualization, and collaboration at The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Norris provides an overview of how Kaiser Permanente as an organization is using data and technology tools and Network Impact’s Whatley then highlights patterns and opportunities in the social sector as a whole.
The recording can be found on the CITRIS Youtube channel.
Network Impact is working with Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit Division and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to conduct a scan of current and emerging technologies that provide access to population health data and collaboration supports for use by funders and others working to promote healthy, equitable and sustainable communities. We surveyed funders in a range of organizations to identify the best-in-class tools they are using and are conducting interviews with leading innovators and practitioners. The scan will identify gaps, needs and opportunities to advance the field.
You can download a presentation summary of our findings and see an interactive visualization. We are also presenting at the Foundation Center Technology Affinity Group conference on November 11th, 2015 in Los Angeles and the Community Indicators Consortium Conference on November 9th, 2015 in Austin, TX.
Featured in the summer issue of The Foundation Review “Network Evaluation in Practice: Approaches and Applications” authored in partnership with Julia Coffman, Director or the Center for Evaluation Innovation.
Did you catch our guest post on Beth Kanter’s blog? Methodologies and Metrics for Civic Tech shares more about what we learned working with the Knight Foundation’s Technology for Engagement grantees.
We often hear grantmakers talk about leveraging dollars but rarely get to see year-to-year data showing a funder’s investment over time with the additional resources they attract to an issue. The Garfield Foundation agreed to let us review their investments in the RE-AMP network over the last ten years so we could take a closer look at a specific case. Our analysis shows that even foundations with a modest corpus can leverage their charitable dollars many times over by investing in networks. Our latest blog post on this topic is featured in The Stanford Social Innovation Review .
Developed with the Center for Evaluation Innovation this two-part guide to network evaluation includes a brief that outlines the frameworks, approaches and tools to address practical questions about designing and funding network evaluations and aCasebook that provides profiles of nine evaluations.
Download at: www.networkimpact.org/networkevaluation
The civic tech field has expanded so widely in recent years, it’s hard to think of a major city or an area of civic life that these technologies don’t touch. In this dynamic environment, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has been a field leader, investing over $25 million since 2010 in projects ranging from neighborhood forums, to civic crowdfunding platforms, to efforts that promote government innovation. For eighteen months, Network Impact worked with Knight Foundation grantees and other civic tech leaders to find out how they measure success, focusing on tools they’re using to track platform performance and assessment challenges they face along the way.
We started by identifying key outcomes related to these common civic tech objectives and gathered case examples of assessments from the field:
- Build place-based social capital
- Increase civic engagement
- Promote deliberative democracy
- Support open governance
- Foster inclusion and diversity
Our work also led us to think about tracking the performance of a platform through its lifecycle – recognizing that assessment priorities vary with stage of development, from early testing of a minimum viable product to later-stage scaling of a tested concept.
The result of this research: two guides to evaluating civic tech that summarize assessment best practices, including leading methodologies and metrics that can help innovators monitor progress towards their goals and evaluate the impact of their efforts. Some of these assessment best practices focus on connections between users, both online and off-line, with an important network dimension.
Assessing Civic Tech: Case Studies and Resources for Tracking Outcomes is a publication of the Knight Foundation with Network Impact that focuses on measuring the impact of civic tech platforms on people, places, and processes.
How To Measure Success: A Practical Guide to Answering Common Civic Tech Assessment Questions is a Network Impact publication that offers examples and advice for monitoring a platform’s ongoing performance using tools and approaches that are effective and practical.
Additionally, the Knight Foundation wrote up their key lessons from investing in civic tech that are also worth a read.
How Code for America is using the Assessing Civic Tech guide
The release of this guide is coming at the right time. Demonstrations of what is possible are up in running in communities of every size across the United States. Now we need to find out not only what works, but what works best over time.
At Code for America, the guide will be particularly helpful for Fellowship teams and volunteer Brigades who are thinking about the questions they need to ask and the changes in attitudes they need to measure to assess progress towards increasing civic engagement and open governance. The process and case studies documented in this guide will be useful for structuring these assessments.
At Code for America, we believe that it is critically important to identify the residents, community groups, or government staff who will be using the particular public service program or benefit, then work with them early in the assessment design process. This guide provides important examples of how to frame an evaluation to include and work with intended beneficiaries. It offers sample questions and resources that will be very helpful to organizations and individuals who are beginning to explore how they can include measures of civic engagement and changing attitudes in their assessment of their efforts.
Created by the Connecting to Change the World team, a framework for assessing network evolution that lists network conditions such as connectivity, leadership, activities against an axis of stages of network evolution. The framework can be found on the Connecting to Change the World site.