Results Based Accountability
Adopted Results Based Accountability for the Memorial Fund's strategic planning
In 2008, the Memorial Fund entered into a public/private funding partnership with the State Department of Education and other funders to support 23 communities in developing comprehensive community early childhood plans. The communities were encouraged to use Results Based Accountability (RBA) in their planning and were given intensive technical assistance to support their use of this tool.
The RBA planning model is based on an inclusive process that looks at population-level results and aligns strategies and measurement to an overarching results statement. The decision to use RBA was driven, in part, by the fact that the Early Childhood Cabinet had adopted RBA and the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly used early childhood as a pilot project for the legislature's use of RBA. The Memorial Fund believed that using the RBA framework would lead to closer alignment with the language used by the state and the Early Childhood Cabinet.
Though challenging and, at times, frustrating, RBA proved to be a widely and consistently valued tool because it had immediate applicability and provided a context for communities, some of whom were floundering in their planning efforts prior to receiving RBA training. As one community put it, “RBA helped to create clarity and structure and most importantly, measurable outcomes to our plan...It was amazing to see how the training helped to evolve our 'theory' into 'practice' right before our eyes.”
RBA in a Funding Context
As the Memorial Fund embarked on its own strategic planning process in 2009, staff chose to use RBA to inform the process. This decision was shaped not only by a commitment to align with the state and community approach, but also by the desire to share in the experience that Discovery community collaboratives had found so taxing and so valuable.
Using RBA was demanding for the Memorial Fund, just as it had been for community groups. It is an intensive approach that requires broad input, and the capacity and skill to collect and make meaning out of data, as well as a commitment to measuring progress toward the desired result.
Some aspects of RBA were particularly well suited to the Memorial Fund's philosophy and organizational culture, such as using a broad and inclusive process for gathering stakeholder and partner input on the strategic direction the Memorial Fund should take in the coming years.
The process designed by the Memorial Fund included regional grantee forums, structured input sessions, and interviews with key stakeholders. Later, a series of more focused workgroups were convened to further explore particular issues. All of this input was continuously processed internally. Finally, another series of regional meetings helped to share and refine the emerging plan. Ultimately, the Memorial Fund heard from more than 300 stakeholders and these findings shaped the strategy for the next five years of Discovery.
Another element of RBA that resonated with the Memorial Fund was starting with the end result in mind. This thinking allowed for a more systemic look at the issues at the center of the work and informed who needed to be engaged for their perspective and input.
Other aspects of RBA proved difficult for Memorial Fund staff to implement, particularly setting performance measures. One issue was the tension around what should be measured. Should the Memorial Fund measure its operations as a grantmaker? Its impact on children and families in the community? Identifying appropriate performance measures proved a greater challenge than staff had anticipated.
Additionally, the Memorial Fund has been reluctant to use accountability strategies that tie community work to specific performance measures. Discovery provides modest, long term funding and support for reflection, collaboration, and planning to help communities to build strong collaboratives. This grantmaking approach is based on the deeply held belief that this work is developmental and nonlinear and may not result in measurable change on a predictable timetable.
Though staff worked through these challenges and produced the plan, the Memorial Fund continues to work toward greater clarity around the role of data and measurement.
The inherent challenge of using RBA as an accountability tool was even greater than the Memorial Fund had initially realized and provided a lens into community challenges in using this tool. The capacity and skill to collect, analyze and use data to inform decision making are critical elements for communities to succeed, and these capacities seldom are easily accessible to community collaboratives.
Even where the ability to collect and make meaning of data exists, individuals and systems are often overburdened and under-resourced. The experience of incorporating RBA into its own planning process informed the Memorial Fund's thinking about the capacity needed to use a data driven accountability framework for planning and what supports are needed for communities engaging in this work.