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PHILANTHROPY 2173 - Measuring ourselves and perceptions of progress
Lucy Bernholz

December, 2013

The Center for Effective Philanthropy just released a survey of foundation CEOs that asks them about their sense of progress on the issues their organizations work on. I was honored to be asked for my thoughts on their findings - which are posted on the Center's blog. The process reminded me of my own efforts to learn about "How'm I doing?"* 

How do I measure my work? How do I know if I'm making progress? 

Since selling my consulting business and focusing now on writing, learning and teaching, my goals have changed. I'm focused on thinking hard about philanthropy, the social economy, digital civil society so I need to reflect on what I'm learning, who's talking about similar ideas, who's pushing back on these ideas, who disagrees with me and what can I learn from them? 

  • At the lab we're also trying to frame new policy conversations - so we can track who and where those ideas are being discussed and what formal/informal recommendations they seem to be influencing.
  • We're also trying to understand the research landscape about these ideas - so we'll be able to compare types and amount of research over time.
  • Every year in the Blueprint I include a scorecard of how I did on the predictions I made the previous year. You can find the most recent Blueprint here - scorecard is on pages 19-20. Sometime soon I ought to go back through the five years of Blueprints and check on my overall "score."
  • I pay a lot of attention to the questions I get when I give speeches or that people send me via the blog or Twitter. How do those questions change over time? Do people seem more acquainted with my ideas - is there a general familiarity with the work or is it new, over and over again? (both are important - depth and breadth of reach) I also try to track who is writing to me, asking questions, inviting me to speak, debating my ideas - is the group expanding and diversifying or am I speaking to the same people over and over?
  • Because I'm trying to learn I also pay attention to whether I'm breaking new ground - reading new things, exploring new fields (I learned a lot about telecommunications security and surveillance in 2013. In the new year I plan to learn about biotechnologies and robotics. I'm also reading and re-reading a lot of American intellectual history from the revolutionary era). 
  • One thing I do "measure" every year or so is this diversity of what I'm reading. I've subscribed to certain periodicals for 32 years (Hint: they all have New York in their names). I subscribe to two periodicals with whose political slant I disagree (and I read them). I use the sources cited in those periodicals as a way to find new things to read. My goal here is to try to listen to the "other sides' opinions" in the "other sides' voices," not filtered through the pundits with whom I agree. What I'm trying to track here is the degree to which I'm hearing echos or finding new ideas.
  • And yes, I use web analytics, citations, and distribution numbers for all the digital idea sharing I do - but I learn more from the qualitative feedback then from raw numbers or percentages.

There's more (there's always more) but those are some ways I reflect on my work. 

I wish I had a group of peers to reflect on this with me - to push me further, to tell me where they think I'm making progress, and where I'm falling behind. I do this informally with colleagues at Stanford and elsewhere but there's no single mechanism or place I can get the kind of feedback I want, so I have to piece it together. I'd welcome your ideas or thoughts on other ways for me to learn and improve and make a difference. 

How do you measure your work? How do you know if you're making progress? 

*Ed Koch, former NYC Mayor, lead quote in my CEP post

Visit Lucy Bernolz blog at http://www.philanthropy.blogspot.com



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