Tag Archives: strategic planning

On the credibility of credibility tools

Most of us, who work in the line of evaluation, bear in mind and remind ourselves and others about validity and reliability of measurement / evaluation tools. When I design a study, I always think how to triangulate the collection of data, and use more than one system to measure the subject in question. Therefore, most of us will usually use several questions to measure the same indicator (and then conduct a reliability test); and ensure the test and indicators are actually measuring the topic we would like to learn about. However, I never put too much thinking about other tools and research instruments that are perform other types of measurements, i.e. Polygraph. What polygraphs are entitled to do, is to provide the researcher/authority with some information that in general is considered more credible than just another statement or testimony given by the participant. Much research was and is done on this regard, and it is widely known that polygraphs are not too credible or reliable tools to assess whether the participant tells the truth (a not so credible way to assess credibility!). This arises several questions:
(1) why is it s widely used, while known to be less reliable than the average person would expect this to be (not to mention experts)?
(2) why did humanity could not come up with a better, more reliable, more valid solution so far?
(3) what are the consequences of using such a tool on human rights, dignity, and justice?
(4) how can we improve the tool, or suggest a better tool, or at least suggest a tool to triangulate and validate polygraph findings?

It appears those questions are high priority these days, and there is a competition in the US, focusing on “Credibility Assessment Standardized Evaluation (CASE)“. This Prize Challenge offers five prizes to teams and individuals who will suggest fruitful tools to asses and standardize evaluation process for credibility tools. In their words: “The CASE Challenge is … to develop credibility assessment evaluation methods that can be used to objectively evaluate both existing and future credibility assessment techniques/technologies”. 
Registration is open now, and those who will present winning solutions will be invited to Washington, DC in summer 2019. I am highly curios to learn what options we have to create a better, standardized evaluation, especially focusing on intended future behaviour. A reliable, standardized solution may be duplicated to other areas such as program evaluation in education and social services.

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Grant Allocation and Management

In small family foundations, the prevalent question is “how can we do best with our investment?”. Similarly to the question about fund investments in stock and other assets. However, the big question of how to impact the most with the funds, may be answered quite decently when taking several aspects into account:

(1) applicant information: what information is collected from applicant, and how much information is usable. In other words, the secret of data collection in the first stage is the lean nature of the collected data. Ensure the information requested is highly relevant for the decision making process.

(2) clear guidelines: when the foundation is getting too many irrelevant applications and letters, this raises the question of clarity and accuracy of guidelines for applications. Hence, ensure the application guidelines are clear, presented and accessible on the website, and state shortly and clearly who are the typical applicants to be considered. Also, provide a clear timeline for application rounds and decision announcements.

(3) decent evaluation: the most important, yet frequently neglected aspect, is evaluation and understanding of the contribution impact. It is easy to donate for a cause close to one’s heart. However, grant making is not only about giving, but also about ensuring the investment is impactful and fruitful. By this, the foundation needs to create simple rubrics or other evaluation tools to allow continuous and clear reporting (quarterly and annually). The evaluation tool should also provide the opportunity to compare between funded projects, to assist in decision making for future donations. Those evaluation tools do not have to be too sophisticated, they can be smart enough to compare and extract information based on the criteria on the guidelines, and most importantly – measure and evaluate the match and achievement of the foundation’s vision.

(4) organized decision making: when all the above are accomplished, the foundation’s management team and board are able to make decisions quite easily and effectively. Whether it is about deciding who are to be included in the next round of applicants (i.e. section 1 and 2 – guidelines and applicant information) or what was the impact of the invested funds over the year, and how the projects are doing in comparison (section 3). The management team arranges all the information for the board, and the board makes efficient,  wise, evidence-based decisions to highly impact and use the funds in the most significant way to achieve the foundation’s vision.

 

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The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Society – Post #2

Over the last two years I became enthusiastic about the possibility to apply knowledge from physics, especially theoretical physics on the social life. In this post I am trying to compress all the knowledge I am familiar with, and expose you to those extremely promising fields of interest. Please note that this is the second introductory post for the topic. In the next posts on this series I will discuss real-life examples related to social deviance (crime) and economy (unemployment, stock prices), and the like.

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My previous post about the topic, dealt with systems thinking and its application on management. On this post, I will dive into a more specific field for knowledge, principally connected to geophysics and information. In the last decade, there is a group of scientist that are interested in applying mathematical models on social phenomena. The basic assumption is that social complex systems may exhibit similar behaviour to natural complex systems; and indeed Miller and Page (2009) found similarities between behaviour of animals, human beings, economy, politics, and physical systems.

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Melanie Mitchell, in her free online course “Introduction to Complexity“, touches many aspects of complex systems and shows stunning similarities between systems of birds, molecules, and other objects. She defines complex system as a system that consists of three elements: (1) components/agents; (2) nonlinear interactions between components; (3) no central control. Additionally, complex systems present an emergent behavior, and featured by: hierarchical organization; information processing – components do not make decisions, it is made collectively; complex dynamics – patterns in space and time – continually changing structure and behaviour; and evolution and learning.  Systems improve themselves to perform better, and computation helps to represent how it works.

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Additional important concept is Entropy. Entropy (firstly discovered by Boltzmann) is a measure of disorder / randomness. This degree of disorder cannot be 100% decreased, even when an intervention is performed to slow down molecules moving. On the contrary, entropy ALMOST always increases, however Newton’s second law of motion says motion is reversible. entropy can also be viewed as  hidden information, because the structure is too small and too numerous to keep track of it, but the info is never lost. You always know where you came from. The most striking element of entropy that cought my attention is its recurrence.  According to Boltzmann, fluctuations, recurrence are general property of a finite system, they will happen over and over again because of the finite number of options, and because of the fact the system cycle itself. Even though we are not living in a “finite system”, we can still keep recurrence in mind, when considering social complex systems. (for Shannonian information theory and more in-depth review – short online free course- please click here).

The last concept I would like to introduce today is Chaos. Chaos is one particular type of the dynamics of a system, and it has sensitive dependence on initial condition. It also holds the attribute of repeating behaviour – which is “universality“, things are repeating in chaotic systems. Additionally, a very helpful view of chaos is done by using bifurcation (the point it gets divided, and again and again) and roughness: The density of self-similarity. How much detail we can see when digging in more and more. Fractal-like dimensions exist everywhere in nature (such as tree. When we cut a small part and then a small prat from it, and repeatedly- we find the same structure). Therefore, iterations of simple rules can explain complex systems.

 

futures thinking

Applying the above into a general thinking about social-human complex systems leads us very fast to a feeling that those physical concepts may be relevant to human behaviour as well.

It is clear that social systems are complex. Hence, we can identify them by the Chaos theory, where we witness seemingly random behaviour. We can think of infinite variations in social life, where people tend to act in an unpredictable way. Is it?! The chaos theory makes some order in the entropy.

As said above, Chaos theory is looking into phenomenon which are dependent on a specific state at the start point. This theory argues that objects in the system will act with sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

In other words, social behaviour start point is when a healthy baby gets born. From this point, this baby interacts with others on the system. We can think about significant others for emotional and immediate needs, but we can also scale up and see other parts of the system. The larger family, the neighborhood, the political and economic situation at that time. We can even scale higher – global warming phase, earth and its relationship with the sun system, and so on.

This person will have a life full of interaction with enormous number of parts in the big system, and also affect and influence others who present some sort of relationship with him or her. However, given that we are trying to explain social behaviour by the Chaos theory, we assume that the initial condition has a life-long effect. Psychological as well as biological, and recently neurobiological theories are dealing with the question of “nature vs. nurture”, and nowadays the assumption is that the nature and nurture are working hand in hand to facilitate a regulated adaptive behavior (Spiegel et al., 2014). Hence, our biological systems cooperate with the social environment to create a dynamic and responsive behaviour.

We can continue thinking in this direction, and find that the above concepts actually make some order and make sense. In the next posts I will review recent scientific developments in respect to physical models on social-human behaviour; and their stunning ability to explain complex relationship between macro socio-economic variables.

 

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Miller, J. H., & Page, S. E. (2009). Complex adaptive systems: An introduction to computational models of social life. Princeton university press.

Spiegel, Ivo, Mardinly, A.R., Gabel, H.W., Bazinet, J.E., Couch, C.H., Tzeng, C.P., Harmin, D.A, Greenberg, M.E. (2014). Npas4 Regulates Excitatory-Inhibitory Balance within Neural Circuits through Cell-Type-Specific Gene Programs.  Cell , 157 (5), 1216 – 1229.

 

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Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS)

Guest Post by Ron Sommer

Introduction: reading my post about system thinking and program evaluation, Ron mentioned a close practice that incorporate both budget and planning. I am glad he agreed to write a guest post about the topic, and hope you will find it fascinating too.

Moreover, this is the first blog post for 2018!  and opening the year with such a great topic is a good reason to celebrate (:

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In ancient days, meaning the 1960’s, Planning, Programming, Budgeting Systems (PPBS) was considered an innovation in budgeting. PPBS was first introduced in the Defense Department in the USA in 1961 by Robert McNamara, and in all departments in 1965 until 1975. Though it failed to be widely adopted in government, PPBS is effective is less complex organizations such as NGO’s.

PPBS is an integrated management system that places emphasis on the use of analysis for program decision making. The purpose of PPBS is to provide management with a better analytical basis for making program decisions, and for putting such decisions into operation through an integration of the planning, programming and budget functions. Program decision making is a fundamental function of management. It involves making basic choices as to the direction of an organization’s effort and allocating resources accordingly. This function consists first of defining the objectives of the organization, then deciding on the measures that will be taken in pursuit of those goals, and finally putting the selected courses of action into effect.

 

Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS)
Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS)

 

An organization can be viewed in a simplified way as carrying out its functions through five basic and sequential phases: (1) planning, (2) programming, (3) budgeting, (4) operations, and (5) evaluation.

  1. Specification of Objectives – The objectives of the programs are to be specified in consistence with the long-term goals in quantitative terms as far as possible.
  2. Systemic Analysis – The possible alternative projects to achieve the program objectives are analyzed in a systematic way with the use of cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis.
  3. Functional Classification – The budget is classified on a functional basis like functions, programs, projects and activities.
  4. Organization – Budget formulation addresses the organizational structure, managerial and administrative procedures of the programs/projects/activities.
  5. Evaluation – The mechanism for evaluation of performance on the basis of financial and physical performances to monitor, and take corrective actions, if necessary.

Each of these phases consists of a distinct but related function in the overall conduct of the organization’s affairs.

  1. Planning is an analytical activity carried out to aid in the selection of the organizations objectives and then to examine courses of action that could be taken in the pursuit of the objectives. Planning, in effect, poses the question of whether some particular course of action would contribute more to the attainment of the organization’s goal than its various alternatives.
  2. Programming is the function that converts plans into a specific action schedule for the organization. Programming consists of developing detailed resource requirements and the actions needed to implement plans.
  3. Budgeting is the activity concerned with the preparation and justification of the organization’s annual budget. The function of budgeting is to secure sufficient funds to put the program into operation.
  4. Operations consists of the actual carrying out of the organization’s programs. Preparing for operations is the object of all the other phases.
  5. Evaluation is the function that evaluates the worth of operating programs. Through program evaluation the worth of programs in attaining goals is measured and appraised. The result of evaluations is used to modify current operations, if indicated, or in planning future programs.

PPBS provides an opportunity for identifying the program alternatives which offer the biggest pay-off in achieving communal objections, or require lower costs, and these can be singled out for priority attention by planning groups.

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Introduction to systems thinking & social theory and practice – post #1

In the following  series of posts, I will introduce, review, discuss, explain, and examine the wicked topic of systems, by integrating several disciplines of knowledge (such as physics and sociology).

I will talk about actual consequences and implementations related to the social element in our life. By “social” I refer to the knowledge, perception, and practice about the human society. The materials I use are taken from academic books, lectures, YouTube videos, peer reviewed journals and so on.

 

Systems Thinking

 

The basic of systems thinking is that there is interrelationships between everything to everything. In simple words, what goes around comes around. This is not random this expression is using the round shape. It is circular. Think for a moment about earth, rounding around itself, rounding around the sun, other stars rounding around on the same system, the milky way within the galaxy, the galaxy within universe, and so forth. Step back, and see the same pattern for humanity. A child was born, circled by family, circled by broader family, circled by neighborhood, city, country, human beings, etc. now, add more components (let’s call them “agents”) to the system. Wild life, weather, forests, energy. Another frequent example is to imagine cloudy sky. We automatically know it’s going to rain, and then the sky will be blue again.

Russel Ackoff (2000) explains what is a system: “A system is whole which cannot be divided to parts, the system is dependent on how the parts interact, not how parts act alone. An example: life, our body; part of cars”.

We live in a never-ending system. In effect this is an infinite system, which is interrelated, and every agent is affecting other agents, and those relationships cause a dynamic change of the system. In fact, we are part of this complex dynamic system, and what we do is undoubtedly affecting other agents, in so many ways, shapes, and variations, but we tend not to see it, because we are not used to it, we think linearly.  We see straight lines. Cause and effect. A straight arrow from A to B. A led to B. we are having a hard time to internalize the obvious fact that it is a circle.

Systems Thinking

This may sound weird to you, but before getting familiar with Physics (especially quantum theory and information theory), and systems thinking in general, I was doubtful and considered myself a woman of facts and strong reality, with a special affection to multiple linear regression.

Therefore, repeatedly, Peter Senge introduced this topic of systems thinking in his book “the fifth discipline”, and in other lectures on (2014), with the very clear statement that Gut and heart are fundamental for every process of effective learning and action; and leader are the key. We firstly grasp it from the heart, then we translate it to thinking.

Ricardo Valerdi (2011) is convinced that system thinking is not a natural act. He explains that interruptions distract us from what we are doing; our brain is limited to boundaries of complexity and dynamics. As an example, he mentions Dan Ariely – “predictably irrational” book – on how people tend to wrong decisions because of abilities limitations.

In summary, systems thinking is not natural to us, we are not used to it, our school systems educate us to think linearly, however once we start seeing the patterns, interrelationships, grasp the complexity as a life fact, it is a matter of time, until we view the world utterly differently. Moreover, with enough practice, we can leverage our potential to achieve much better results, and avoid repeating problems.

As Senge says in his book “the fifth discipline” (1994): most of the problems we face as a humanity, reflect our inability to grasp and internalize complex problems.

 

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Good Managers Make Decisions

I have not been in a writing mood for a while, and every time I was thinking of getting to write in my blog, I have decided that there was not a good enough story to share. I met only good managers, only ones who work hard to achieve organizational goals… (:
However, in the last days, the very simple yet extremely important idea of how to make decisions was striking me again and again, so here we go…

Every one of us, has been in a situation in which we were expected to make a decision, which will influence the future. Most of the time we do it without hesitation; however how many of us have had to make a critical decision that will impact the life of many? isn’t it the time when we start shaking, revisit, revise, analyze the data from a different aspect, consult again, and rethink if we are going to make the right decision?! I am not sure what about you, but I certainly was part of this group…

DSC05907

..and here is the important lesson I have learned… you make a decision, and THIS IS IT. Given that you already searched, researched, discussed the topic on management meetings, and you have a good understanding of what may happen in every option, you just need to jump the last step – DECIDE. EXECUTE. Do it.

The lesson above in very strong not only in terms of good and efficient management, but also in terms of our managerial ability to get improved. Once we learn to make decision efficiently, the organization can scale and grow; and our managerial skills are higher and better.

 

 

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3 Nonprofit Issues to Reflect and Ponder on

Nowadays I am involved in some very exciting projects, and would like to share with you some thoughts. By reflecting on the following issues, I have no intentions to convince you to adapt my view, and have no meaning to advocate for any system or line of operation; I rather wish to give you some food for thought. Something to reflect on when you have free time, some topics to discuss with colleagues, co-workers, directors, stakeholders, clients, etc. Ready To Think?! I hope you will also enjoy (:

1. Politics:
Well, this is quite a sensitive issue, but since we all have some sort of relation to politics – I would like to raise the question:
How much time do we invest in politics, and how much time is really required for making good out of it?
By asking this question, think, and ponder on, I am trying to count, quantify, and evaluate the output of the time I invest into the issues such as:
* What belongs to whom, and why?
* Why X obeys to Y?
* Is a specific type of relationship between stakeholders really necessary?
* What structure brings the most powerful results?
* How much does crony capitalism (of any sort…) affect the organization?
The last question I ask myself is – what questions are relevant to my organization, and what is the benefit from discussing it?

Not for profit management

2. Collaboration and collaborative action
This is another sensitive issue, but collaboration is a vital part of every organization, even if you do not realize it at first. You always want to leave doors open, you always want to collaborate, you can always share, and you do not have to always spy for sharks. They are out there, no doubt, but you can always find the benefit for the organization to grow from EVERY collaboration. Quit thinking in ego terms, and forget the matching part. Yes, do not forget if someone shuts the door on your face; BUT if they reopen it – go in and present yourself. Collaborate with similar organizations to learn and absorb; collaborate with complementary organizations to provide a better service to your clients; and collaborate with different organizations to amplify your impact and open your organizations to new directions. Forget, get read of competition terms, and find the benefit in collaborations. Believe me it works BIG time, even if not immediately.
The question is how and why do we invest on this connections, and how do we value them? 

3. The board role
The fact that businessman basically manage the nonprofit world is pretty precise. But given this fact, there is a bunch of benefits and opportunities for every nonprofit organization. You can advocate for your organization and get support, you can learn some business methodologies, you can learn business terminology, you get to understand business way of thinking. Until here I counted what YOU can learn. But there is another side, not less exciting – you can teach new methods, you can advocate for compassion, you may teach some beneficial terminology, you may convince to think in a social profit terms, you can gain more support on your side. Yes you can. Use your board, and make them work for the organization.
I would ask myself, over and over, what can I do more in order to engage relevant individuals in helping the organization out? How can I engage relevant individuals on pursuing some issues? Trust me, when you start interview and engage board members out of the board room, aiming to address a specific need or a topic, you get to discover a treasure of opportunities.

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In summary, I wrote about three issues only, whereas there are hundreds of them. However, my goal is to suggest a different way of reflection and analysis to managerial issues in nonprofits, and I trust my reader to interpret it their own way (:

Thank you again for reading and thinking.

 

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4 Questions to Answer Yourself Before You Measure Outcomes

Hello friends, I am now writing for over 6 months, and every time I publish something I feel that I somehow helped the world (: So thank you for reading my comments.

Today I’d like to focus on a very sensitive issue – outcomes measurement. Yeah! you need to measure. If you make money out of your activity – you may want to know what was the impact in order to maintain and retain clients; If you do nonprofit you may want to know what was the impact of your services, and how you can grow.

I will make my points simple and clear:

1. Feelings are not true. They are misleading. Never trust your senses or impressions. Measurement does not work this way, and this is why you want to employ it. Facts are usually different than what we tend to think… a smart women quoted me a very strong message 10 years ago:”without data you are just another person with an opinion”. This is still so true.

2. Your boss/es are not interested in statistics and data, they just want the work to be impactful. Really?! how are you going to know it? Write down your goals, translate into objectives, and have these objectives measured. Be the one who brings rational and data to the table, be the one to help the organization grow.

Nonprofits consulting - ready to think

3. You must have some sort of education with regard to measurement and evaluation. If you do not have, you are having very high possibilities to be mistaken. The most problematic trajectories are: questionnaires design and data analysis. I have seen thousands of questionnaires in my life so far, almost each one of them contained a critical mistake, which turns the whole business to be useless. So, bear in mind, neither your MBA nor MSW qualified you to write questionnaires and interpret data. Use professional advice.

4. What are you planning to do with the data? make sure there is a good reason to collect data and evaluate. Once you have the data, make the best out of it. Translate it into strategic steps and apply it. Then, recheck your performance and adjust accordingly.

Thank you for thinking and reading! On the next post I will share an example for a measurable impact questionnaire I created, for free use. Please stay tuned and subscribe (:

 

 

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The Power Of Passion

Yesterday we had good friends for coffee and laughing… and high conversation… and when I woke up I just knew it, I knew that I am going to post about the passion of doing what you love, nothing but what you love (:

All of us, at some point of our life, or should I say many times on our life… feel stuck. Stuck in what we do, who we are, who with share our life with, our career, our children, you name it… But since my blog is focusing on management – let’s focus on “problematic” points in management, such as employees who resist to change, organizational stress, impossible deadlines, large projects that go nowhere, and so on…

Ready to think - management insights

Well, I have noticed two types of coping with those feelings:
* Fight it, and change things the way YOU prefer
* Accept it, and wait for this to disappear, or stay, or whatever

In my opinion, there is no doubt. I choose the first. I choose it because this is the way a manager is going to succeed. You cannot just accept things because you feel weak or lazy at some point, if you do that – you miss good things, if you choose it as a routine, then you lost it all. Fight to get things done the way you view it.

How?
* Face reality – describe the problem for yourself (pen and paper please)
* Focus on specific spots which cause the most of the mess
* Consult with relevant managers – always have another set of eyes, and someone who is willing to give a good advice
* Write a plan how to change route, fix cracks, etc. If you need to research it – then do it. It is much better to copy others’ successful ways of coping.
* Always have plan B and C. I usually find that three plans is a good number of alternatives.
* Do it, never give up. It will happen eventually.

Good luck (-:

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Being good is good for you

Quite corny, but always ends as pure true. Doing good to others is doing good to yourself.
Got to confess, I did not hold this opinion for all of my life. I sometimes fall into the evil trap, I sometimes do not believe there is good; however, when I eventually go through challenges, I am a better person, and so you are.

You are a better person, because you did good – you helped someone. So in fact you improved a bad situation. Most of the good people do not even know they incredibly helped someone, watch St. Vincent and judge for yourself…

The movie deals with “A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.

I am sure he did not plan to be that positively influential, but so you are when you are doing without planning. You never know how much and why you influence someone’s life.

So next time you are somewhere, try to do good to others intentionally, be aware of your unlimited opportunities to sprinkle good and positive around you. Help someone on the road (even when giving them the option to change a lane safely), on the supermarket (you may entertain a kid when his parent is trying to pack, push, put, pay, etc.), you may even consider raise your hand and ask why if you think your company will do harm to the environment.

Just do good, it pays. It pays because it makes you a better person; and when you do good intentionally, you will do it also unintentionally (-:

 

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