Category Archives: NGO

Philanthropy and Race to the Top – The Experience in Ohio

In 2010, The Nord Family Foundation provided support for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s (OGF) education initiative making this the third year for such support.  Trustees were provided a detailed report on the role The Nord Family Foundation played in participating in the state-wide stakeholders meetings which resulted in the 2009 publication of, Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.

In 2010, OGF has taken a very active role in working with the Governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in order to secure a potential $400 million in Race to the Top (RTT) funding from the Federal Government.

Ohio was not selected in the first round of applicants for the highly competitive Race to the Top competition.  When the initial request for proposals (RFP) came out, OGF urged ODE to conduct more outreach and stakeholder involvement and encouraged ODE to make use of the working  group teams that had already been assembled for Beyond Tinkering.  ODE made a decision to go it alone.

The first-round application process was not transparent.  Members of the State Legislature asked to see drafts, but this request was denied.  Not surprising, this alienated many in the State Legislature especially from the Republican minority whose endorsement was required by the Feds.  ODE found the process overwhelming given the short timeline.  Its effort to “manage” the process was disastrous.  Ohio went into the competition in Washington in fourth place, based on preliminary criteria.  After the March 2010 presentation in DC, Ohio went from 4th to 10th place among 16 competing states.  Even a phone call from President Obama’s office to put this important swing state into priority was ignored.  It was that bad.

ODE and the Governor’s office justified the lack of transparency claiming they were worried about information leaking out because it was a competitive process. Quite frankly, this is the way they do business at ODE.   The legislature, Governor’s office and the ODE had a field day of finger –pointing.

At this point, OGF once again offered assistance to the Governor’s office stating that without its expertise they would not be successful in Round 2.  The Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, KnowledgeWorks and Martha Holden Jennings Foundations pooled funds allowing OGF to hire a consultant whose prior experience was with the Tennessee RTT application (Tennessee was one of the states to receive RTT funding in the first round.  The Governor demanded that ODE work with the consultant and be more open to stakeholder involvement and input.

OGF’s activities in preparing the application for Round 2 of the Race to the Top application:

1.       The first effort was to help the ODE and the Governor’s office manage communication with the legislature and conduct meaningful outreach with the stakeholders who had been involved with the Beyond Tinkering activities. (These included philanthropy, and organizations like the State School Board Association, the Ohio Teachers Union, district superintendents and teachers (novel thought!) and social service agencies.

2.       OGF partnered with KIDSOhio and tasked specifically for producing regular and accurate information to the legislators, including House and Senate Republicans for their input to the application.

3.       Race to the Top Application Progress Summaries were sent to all stakeholders to keep them informed. Several stakeholder meetings were convened by OGF in service to the Governor’s office.

In August 2010, Ohio was awarded a Race to the Top grant of $400 million to improve education.  It is interesting to note the emphasis on including successful charter schools in eligibility for support.  Another Nord Family Foundation grantee, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools (OAPCS) has played a critical role in ensuring the quality of charter school certification and training in the State.  Last month, OAPCS sponsored a state-wide event in which State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deborah Delisle acknowledged the critical importance OAPCS plays in improving the quality of education in Ohio.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised OAPCS for its innovative seminar called The Ohio Alliance Conference on Collaborative Practices focused on shared learning between traditional public and charter schools.

Lesson learned:

Changing a huge entity like public education is an enormous undertaking requiring focus, discipline and determination.

Some Innovation in Ohio's schools is happening "in spite of" and not "because of" Ohio's Education Bureaucracy

Consider this entry yet another story from the field.   Over the past several months, I have had the honor to work with staff at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County.  The director and his staff are examples of everyday heroes that work in the horribly mis-named “nonprofit” sector in our communities.  These folks demonstrate unwavering dedication to young people, and their passion to get things done, and their actions make them the real social innovators in our country.  Unfortunately, because they work in this so-called nonprofit sector, our society sees them as second-class citizens and treated as “do-gooders” and not respected for the professionals they are.

Dan Palotta’s recently published book Uncharitable provides our society with one of the most compelling arguments for us to reconsider this entire “nonprofit” sector.

Mr. Palotta’s argument is  important as one contemplates creating innovation districts for teaching and learning environments.   The Ohio education bureaucracy by its nature, isolates itself from the nonprofit organizations, most of which do a superb job at providing quality child-care, quality after-school programming, quality mentoring programs and quality college counseling and psychological supports. Over and over again I hear how public school principals make it extremely difficult to link with these organizations offering services to the schools.  Union rules and regulations are such that these nonprofits cannot serve unless the schools have mentors who, must be paid.  In difficult economic times the nonprofits find it harder and harder to find the private dollars necessary to pay for these added budget items.  The schools do nothing to help.  In fairness, many of them cannot because they too are cash strapped. Meanwhile, the nonprofit workers at the schools earn a fraction of what teachers earn and oftentimes have no health insurance or retirement benefits. The whole system lacks any rationality.  It is done because that’s the way it worked forty and fifty years ago.  So the question to consider, ” is there not a way to reallocate the huge sums of state and federal monies that currently go to bloated administrative educational bureaucracies as outlined in the Brookings report I reference in a previous post?”

As a first step, Ohio must shift more K-12 dollars to classrooms. Ohio ranks 47th in the nation in the share of elementary and secondary education spending that goes to instruction and ninth in the share that goes to administration. More pointedly, Ohio’s share of spending on school district administration (rather than school administration such as principals) is 49 percent higher than the national average. It appears from projections in other states and from actual experience in Ohio that school district consolidation, or at the very least more aggressive shared services agreements between existing districts, could free up money for classrooms.

I think there is and here is where I find inspiration. The  Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County opened in city of Oberlin in March of 1999. The Club has provided programming in neighboring Elyria since 2004 beginning at Eastgate Elementary School and later expanded its programming to Wilkes Villa a crime ridden public housing project in Elyria, the Prospect School, and the East Recreation Center.  Elyria is a city that  typifies the economic depression in the “rust belt.”  The crime statistics and more importantly the social and economic strife make this one burgeoning mid-west town a case study of how we need to change the way we have always done things!   This area of Elyria has an unusually high number of children in single-family homes, large number of children with one or both parents incarcerated, one of the highest rates of households where grandparents are taking care of the children.  A study conducted by Dr.  Mark Singer at the Mandel School for Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University for the Nord Family Foundation in 2000 found that,  Elyria is one of three blighted urban cities in NE Ohio that has one of the highest rates of child-on-child (and mainly sibling violence) in NE Ohio due primarily to children in homes where parents are not at home because of work or other issues.

In 2005, the Nordson Corporation donated an old and unused assembly and distribution plant on the south side of town to the Boys and Girls clubs.  The Nordson Community Center  evolved with financial contributions from local foundations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers Foundation, the Community Foundation of Lorain County, the Stocker Foundation and the Nord Family Foundation.  An unused factory has become a thriving center for young people and their families. The Clubs have a simple goal which is  to assist youth members in developing skills and qualities to become responsible citizens and leaders.  The  primary programming focus addresses five (5) core program areas including character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and social recreation. A membership fee of just $5 per year allows youth to engage in hundreds of hours of safe, after-school activities.  This is part of what schools used to offer before the madness of testing morphed into the punitive system of assessment it now is.

The Nordson Community Center  is half complete and now offers a venue for classes, dramatic performances, celebrations, community meetings, health fairs, and much more.  The Nordson Center which used to be a dirty and decaying monument to the flight of manufacturing, now looks like this.

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Energized from our community conversations about the medically uninsured (Blog post and the need to create medical homes), I introduced the B&G staff, as well as directors from the Lorain County Urban League to the Harlem Children s Zone model.  This innovative model, introduced by Geoffrey Canada, embraces the work of nonprofit and other social service organizations and incorporates them into the entire education of the child.  Drawing from this idea, our idea was to fill the extra space at the Nordson Community Center with medical check-up rooms.  Staffed with volunteers from the medical professions at the local hospitals rooms at the club could be used to address the physical and mental health issues faced by the youngsters and eventually their families.

The Boys and Girls Clubs staff met with the director and physicians at the nearby Elyria Metropolitan Hosptial (a charity hospital that looses about $8 million a year in uncompensated care because the poor use their emergency room as a portal to the health care system).  They have picked up the idea and already have a number of health care professionals ready to serve in the center.  At this writing the assistant superintendent of the Elyria Schools is endorsing the concept of expanding for-credit educational options to young people who attend the Clubs.  This could include online academic credit.  Additionally, the Lorain City Schools is also exploring the idea of linking physical and mental health programming in its schools as they plan for the construction of a new campus.

As the philanthropic community engages in serious discussion about integrating technology to the educational sector, it must give equal consideration to how the school systems can better integrate the hand-on and interpersonal work of the social and medical sector which are critically important to supporting families in severe economic crisis.  That is a very exciting charge for philanthropy.

The challenge for the educational sector will be how to make more effective use of the “nonprofit” sector which serves to enhance not compete with public education.  I discussed this in a post I wrote in 2008,     To do so, this sector will have to re-think its perception of the “nonprofit” sector as a group of “do-gooders” and more as business partners.  That too is an exciting challenge.

Realizing this dream however will require concerted effort on the State’s legislatures to reconsider they way they allocate federal funds through agencies such as mental health, drug and alcohol, juvenile justice and the like.  This is a major challenge for the State and Federal legislators to consider as philanthropy and nonprofits figure out ways to deliver services more efficiently and at lower cost.  Check out the attached video and listen carefully to Vivek Kundra.

“One of the biggest problems in the federal government is that process has trumped outcome. … the biggest reason is that everyone is focused on compliance and no one is thinking about innovation…”

The goals expressed in this video are already emerging with tremendous impact for nonprofit organizations. Check out ReadWriteWeb and see what the public sector can do with this tool!!

Update on a Foundation's Role to Address the Medically Uninsured

The economic depression continues to decimate families in communities throughout the area served by The Nord Family Foundation.   The President was in town last week and spoke about jobs.  The legislative quagmire over addressing health-care has thwarted meaningful conversation about this important topic.  Hope for a resolution to the challenge of the rapidly growing number of medically uninsured people is dissipated.  As politicians focus more on gaining political points for partisan camps, community members of this part of the rust belt still try to find solutions to this massive problem.

The Context – According to results from the 2008 Ohio Family Health Survey, there are an estimated 29,326 uninsured adults, age 18 to 64, in Lorain County.  This number represents 15.9% of adults in Lorain County, a statistically significant increase of 4.9% (9,160 persons) over 2004 figures.  Further, there are 2,723 uninsured children, under the age of 18.  This, however, represents 1% fewer uninsured children over 2004 figures.

The improvement in the rate among children is attributable in large part to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which provided insurance for children in families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level.  In 2008, eligibility was increased from 200% of the federal poverty level.

Some of the characteristics of the adult uninsured population are as follows:

  • Males were more likely to be uninsured than females.
  • Younger adults have higher estimated uninsured rates than older adults.  In Lorain County, 34.1% of adults ages 18 to 24 were uninsured versus 8.4% of adults ages 45 to 64.
  • Married couples have much higher health insurance rates than others.  In Lorain County, 32.4% of unmarried adults ages 18 to 64 were uninsured versus 4.8% of married adults.
  • Adults ages 18 to 64 who are less educated are also less likely to have health insurance.  In Lorain County, those with a four-year college degree had an uninsured rate of 8.1% versus 47.6% for those with less than a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Differences in employment status are also related to insurance status.  In Lorain County, 7.8% of full-time workers were uninsured, compared to 19.9% of part-time workers and 29.4% of unemployed adults.
  • In Lorain County, adults in households with income of at least twice the federal poverty level (FPL) had an uninsured rate of 8.5%. Those below poverty (less than 100% FPL) had an uninsured rate of 34.6%, and almost half (48.6%) of those with incomes between 101% and 150% FPL were uninsured.

The two primary hospital systems located in Lorain County are Community Health Partners Regional Medical Center and EMH Regional Healthcare System. Both systems do their share to provide care to those without coverage and/or the ability to pay.  In 2007, EMH provided approximately $17 million in charity care.  This was an increase of 15% over 2006, a 54% increase since 2004, and more than double 2001.  The same year, CHP provided $4.8 million in traditional charity care, and an additional $11.7 million in unpaid costs for Medicaid.

The Response – In 2008, The Nord Family Foundation contributed $129,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County, to initiate HealthCare Lorain County.  These funds leveraged local grants allowing the group to contract with the Altarum Institute and the Public Services Institute of Lorain County Community College to facilitate a year-long community engagement and planning process aimed at improving access to health care for the uninsured in Lorain County.   The two contractors, guided by Robert Woods Johnson’s Communities in Charge, initiative  diagrammed stakeholders’ perspectives of the current and desired Lorain County health system, completed a local environmental scan, outlined key problems, and mapped provider resources.

Contributions from local funders included

Participants – Approximately forty (40) community leaders, referred to as the Working Group, participated on this initiative at some level and are committed to addressing/improving the health care situation in Lorain County.  This Working Group was comprised of individuals from all aspects of the health care field (hospitals, health departments, mental health board, medical society, etc.), as well as state and local government, law enforcement, social services, local funders, faith-based organizations, and business representatives.   A Steering Committee of ten (10) members acted as a sort of Executive Committee and met when the Working Group did not – vetting data and information and taking suggestions back to the larger Working Group.  Between August 2007 and December 2009, the Working Group and the Steering Committee each met five times, under the guidance/facilitation of the consultants.

Goal – HealthCare Lorain County focused its efforts around providing access to Medical Homes for the uninsured.  In a medical home model, primary care clinicians and allied professionals provide conventional diagnostic and therapeutic services, as well as coordination of care for patients that require services not available in primary care settings. The goal is to provide a patient with a broad spectrum of care, both preventive and curative, over a period of time and to coordinate all of the care the patient receives.  This “Medical Home” decision was reached by the Steering Committee in June 2008 and presented to the Working Group in late July 2008 after much data analysis regarding the statistics of the uninsured in Lorain County, and the current rates/usage stats of the two main hospital systems.   Over the next several months the group reviewed examples of other communities’ successful solutions to the same problem Lorain County is facing and ways in which those communities adopted medical home models or something similar.  December 2009, the Committee recommitted to the long-term goal.


Charity Hospitals

Currently, Community Health Partners has started a very small Medical Home pilot program with the assistance of the Lorain County Free Clinic – both of whom served on the Steering Committee.  The two main hospitals, CHP and EMH, along with the Steering Committee Chair and two of the larger foundations funders, met in November 2009 to discuss how the two hospitals are prepared to commit to/expand on a full Medical Home program for the Lorain County community.  The most viable option for the two appeared to be the Toledo CareNet model which serves a triaging center to make sure the medically uninsured and under-insured have a human being ushering them to an appropriate care.  CareNet’s strength is in providing a continuum of care for the medically indigent requiring chronic care.  At this writing, the hospitals are reluctant to make a financial commitment to what could amount to a $300,000 operating budget for CareNet to function in Lorain County.  The foundations are continuing to meet with the hospital directors to determine why this is the case.

Public Health Departments –

In 2008, The Public Services Institute (PSI) of Lorain County Community College was contracted by the Lorain City public health department to initiate a strategic plan.  The plan was published in July 2008 with little discussion from the Health Care Lorain County group. The plan calls for a need for the three entities to “collaborate,” but fails address Health Care Lorain County’s call to explore consolidation of the three separate health districts into one.  PSI had engaged in low-level negotiations with the health departments to push the idea of merger forward in 2009.   In January 2010, Nord Family Foundation inquired about the PSI’s efforts and received the following response from the Elyria Public Health Director,

We have been unable for many reasons to meet with Lorain City. We have of course had financial reductions in grants and have laid  two positions and eliminated the well child program. We just received an 100,000 cut in the general fund from Elyria — and so are anticipating  other major changes within this year — because so much of our budget depends on grants and those grants are on a fed fiscal year, we have until June to complete whatever we  decided to do about consolidation of some of our remaining programs, etc. This has been — due to our early and constant involvement withH!N! — a very difficult and challenging year. The Board has worked and supported us — but we all know we need to come up with a new business plan that will fit our budget. Unfortunately at a time when our services are really needed on a lot of fronts, we are at risk! But the Board is still interested in some kind of collaboration with Lorain city. There has been no enthusiasm or cordiality on their part re. to invitations — but they are also under stress.

PSI’s message to Nord Family Foundation is,

You will notice the strategic priority regarding collaboration.  Honestly, unless someone funds a neutral convener and facilitator to take these two entities to the next level, I doubt much will happen until either Kathy (Elyria director)  and/or Terry (Lorain director) retire.  Both individuals have to be close to this point so the time is now.

As these conversations continue, the Nord Family Foundation awarded $297,000 in grants to unrelated health-delivery organization in Lorain County between 2008-2009.  The recipient organizations are: Community Health Partners Regional Foundation; Family Planning Services of Lorain County; The Lorain County Free Clinic; The Lorain County General Health District and the Lorain County Health and Dentistry.

Progress is being made in that the foundations continue to engage in conversations with the hospitals, the federally qualified health centers and the free clinic.  An ad hoc committee on the medically uninsured continues to meet regularly with focus on sustaining the Lorain County drug repository.  The Nord Family Foundation hosts those monthly meetings.

After more than a year of meetings, the following challenges remain:

  1. There is a need to continue exploring this very complex issue of providing quality health-care to medically uninsured and underinsured people in the county.
  2. There must be a new technology infrastructure put in place to facilitate data sharing.
  3. There is a desire to provide every citizen a sense of a medical home.  People desire a relationship with a personal health care provider rather than an impersonal institution.
  4. The community needs to explore open-source charts so every patient can have an online chart that will follow him or her to their port to the health care system. The Cleveland Clinic’s remarkable on-line health record called My Chart is a great example of what an electronic health portfolio for medically underinsured and uninsured could look like.
  5. There is a need to examine how health dollars currently flow into the county.  There are tremendous inefficiencies and possible duplication of effort among  three distinct health departments (Elyria, Lorain City and Lorain County Health) which draw most of their funding from federal and state programs.  These departments which were established initially to address infectious disease in the earlier decades of the 20th Century, are not equipped to handle comprehensive chronic care that the majority of the population needs.  Competition from for-profit clinics such as Walgreens Take Care Clinic raises questions about the place of these health departments in a 21st century health care model.
  6. The economic pressure necessitates collaboration between the two charitable hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic.
  7. All eyes are on the negotiations with the impending federal health care legislation in Congress.

Lessons Learned

The challenge for the Nord Family Foundation (or any foundation) deciding to take on a convening effort of this magnitude trustees must determine

  • How visible a role you want the foundation to take
  • have flexibility built into the expectations you have for the outcome
  • know the level of risk you will tolerate (the outcome could result in stakeholders walking away from the table)
  • determine how much staff time and money you are willing to put into the effort
  • look for innovation from players outside the local cohort
  • be willing to stick with it – conversations of this magnitude can take years but n the long run, the Medical Home is likely to result in savings to patients, employers, and health plans.  Increasing the emphasis on primary care could produce large dividends throughout our health care system

Innovation Zones in Education and Government

In previous blog postings, I lament the fact that governments are slow to pick up on implementing Innovation Zones.  On reflection, I realize –as is often the case – the problem perhaps related in our groups inability to provide a more precise vision of what  an Innovation Zone could look like.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Innovation by its nature implies risk-taking.  Government entities (and some philanthropic institutions) tend to be risk averse.

I have struggled with the question how can philanthropy play a role in galvanizing the community around the idea of implementing zones where we can do something about the many glaring inefficiencies we see in our local governments.  I continue to be intrigued by Innovation Zones.  Some municipalities have introduced Innovation Zones but these are typically involve tax incentives between public and private entities to attract new businesses into towns.  The Innovation Zone I propose of are not to attract new business, but change the ineffective ‘business as usual approach to public management.  These Innovation Zones  engage the public, private, university and nonprofit sector in a zone (virtual and real) to demonstrate new collaborations that will result in cost savings and produce greater efficiencies in service delivery.  I hope that soon philanthropy will help to develop just one as a demonstration site that can be replicated in many other communities across the country.

I am going to attempt to answer for myself the following questions.  Anyone reading this blog is welcome to comment and perhaps provide answer I cannot see at this point.

  • What is an innovation zone mean?
  • How does one create and foster innovation zones?
  • What is the goal of an innovation Zone?

Continue reading

Thoughts on a P-16 Education Compact – a case study

P-16 structural realities that concern me about its likelihood of success in an Ohio community

In recent months there has been great fanfare in my area with the launch of a P-16 compact that promises to revitalize education in this fair county of 280,000 people and 14 separate school districts!

The reaction from this  funders perspective is a mixture of skepticism and excitement. The skepticism is grounded in a seeming lack of true innovation proposed in anything the P-16 projects propose. The excitement lies in the opportunity that could be for a truly innovative P-16 that links the focus and energy of a region-wide push to create innovation in the business and government with education. The opportunity is great and presents funders with exciting investment potential. Those investments should be made with the same scrutiny and vetting that any new business innovation would undergo with a venture capitalist. In this time of scare economic resources, it is morally imperative for foundations to hold the education sector to the highest demands for quality programming.

For those interested in the P-16 programs, I recommend a publication by Dennis McGrath, PhD for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation called Convergence as a Strategy and as Model, linking P-16 Education Reform to Economic Development, published in 2008. The article is an excellent overview of the various P-16 programs launched in Ohio. It provides a comprehensive overview of elements that are exciting but also raise concern for the alert reader.

The author describes P-16 as a

…little understood but vital trend developing in and throughout Ohio.” The article promises that P-16 will serve the communities by, “promoting entrepreneurship and strengthening the education skills of residents (which are) vital to the economic security and well-being of their communities….and must be coordinated with workforce development and the creation of career pathways.

Coordination gives me pause because we have seen too often in education, that coordination translates in to tighter control and increased standardization of learning assessment.

On further reading,  it becomes evident that the P-16 is really a variation on the “workforce development” initiatives launched through the public education network about ten years ago. What is unclear to me is whether P-16 and officials who drive its implementation, envision a workforce that in the 19th century was prepared to take orders in a factory, or will have the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit to collaborate on work-teams and communicate new ideas with colleagues and superiors.

I worry that institutionalized education will respond to the latter rather than the former because those driving the bus are used to one way of doing things. My skepticism is rooted in my experience with Ohio Stakeholders, especially those representing the established educational infrastructure (ODE), (OFT) and to a certain extent the Ohio Board of Regents who despite the larger community’s demand for innovation and reform in education – focus their attention on “tinkering” with a system that is clearly overly standardized and not meeting the “customers” need for diversity in learning, in assessment and even type of knowledge acquisition. In this case the customer is parents, students and colleges and universities.

Frederick M. Hess’ book The Future of Educational Entrepreneurship – Possibilities for School Reform contains a chapter entitled, “Attracting Entrepreneurs to K-12that addresses the factors that contribute or detract from true innovation in learning particularly in public schools,

Two unique aspects of the culture of education are also worth noting as constraints on the flow of entrepreneurial talent into the field – one that affects “outsiders” and one that affects “insiders.” Outsiders face the fact that public education’s hiring patterns favor people who have worked there way up the system in the conventional fashion – namely, by becoming a teacher and then an assistant principal and/or principal, and so on. According to a RAND study, for example, 99 percent of school principals had been teachers means that individuals seeking to break into the education industry from other sectors are working against convention. P.52.

The P-16 claims to be  successful because of its ability to produce “convergence” i.e. community conversations that include the business sector, foundations, churches other social service organizations. My fear is that unless the convergence happens on the terms of those invested in the public system, change will not occur. In our county, this Foundation invested more than $4 million in a Center for Leadership in Education which, when established in 1994, had goals similar to those expressed by P-16. The CLE was part of a then, national move, pushed by the Annenberg Challenge of the Annenberg Foundation, to create such centers where private money would be used to establish centers for help reform public schooling. More than 15 years later, the majority of these private institutions struggled due to a lack of full buy-in from the public school systems, and later by competing goals by State established Educational Service Center.

As foundations are approached to fund P-16, they would do well to read all the evaluation reports of the Annenberg and similar foundations that chronicle the difficulty of transforming public schools. Are we simply re-inventing the wheel with P-16? The only change is that the public system is in charge and controlling the agenda.

I am not overly optimistic about P-16 producing an breakthrough in innovative thinking on education and learning. I remember taking part in a community-wide discussion with teachers, superintendents and community leaders. The question on the table was “what does it take to create an adequate school system. I was rather vocal in expressing my concern that the question was not “what does it take to create an excellent school system.” I was told we had to work with what we had.

I will never forget that community session. In the business world or in the medical world what company leader or head of a hospital would tolerate a discussion about creating an “adequate” company or health care institution, yet we allow that to take place in education.

The hope for P-16 in a economically struggling community

I have expressed my concerns, but I need to shift to what I think are exciting possibilities for a P-16.

To start, the P-16 program has been spearheaded by Dr. Roy Church who is a remarkably successful leader in that he has created one of the most robust community colleges in the country. The Lorain County Community College has an impressive variety of educational options for young and adult learners and has a broad menu of career path and training options for residents of this county. LCCC has been the site of the successful early-college program which, in collaboration with the Gates Initiative and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation. (The Governor of Ohio has threatened to cut funding for this successful program in favor of supporting traditional P-12 programs.)

The LCCC has emerged as one of the engines of economic development in this former “rust-belt” community by creating two centers to promote and stimulate business entrepreneurship. The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) and the Entrepreneurship Innovation Institute (EII) are arguable two of the most impressive incubators for business development in the region. Note the two words Innovation applies to creating new businesses to respond to economic crisis. I have not seen the word Innovation used as the community responds to the educational crisis.

In my mind, a successful P-16 compact would move beyond the palaver about convergence and community sounding sessions. Given its structure for administration and community input, the effort has all the potential of being nothing more than a solipsistic exercise. I would see a P-16 that not only focuses on public schooling as we know it, but embraces serious examination of the many new innovations in education that combine different use of technology and teacher time. Programs that encourage student focused learning. Also, the current public system cannot abide honest and frank discussion with charter schools. Furthermore, there appears to be little tolerance for discussion about how to integrate the elements of successful private and/or faith based schools such as Cristo Rey Schools, the Nativity Schools as well as schools such as the E-prep Academy in Cleveland. Finally Lorain County has one of the best independent schools in the region – Lakeridge Academy. This school is one of several independent schools in NE Ohio that are known for academic excellence and producing students of high caliber and integrity. For the Press, and community leaders, conversation takes place as if these institutions did not exist. I have even heard some people suggest the country would be better if these institutions shut down.

This foundation has provided support to many of the schools mentioned above.  Careful scrutiny of their programs, site visits to the schools and solid outcome data demonstrate to us, these schools are successful,  especially in urban areas, transforming lives of entire families by providing quality education. Why can a community not ask why these schools are able to remediate children from failing public schools in less than a year. Why do these same schools boast 90% college acceptance and more importantly – college completion rates!

Why can’t these schools as well as emerging online programs be invited into the process of innovation in public education. Instead of condemning charter schools why not look at them in the same way a leader in business will look at innovation to improve the company’s product or develop an entirely new line.  I would argue that the nature of the public school system does not allow teachers to engage in meaningful discussions with principals and superintendents to even ask the right questions about where education is going.  Instead the focus is on grades and reports and data. Teachers no longer feel challenges to practice and art of teaching but instead to conform to some rigid standard to produce pro-scribed results.

Northeast Ohio has been lauded by the likes of The Wall Street Journal for the truly collaborative accomplishments of philanthropy with the business sector. The Fund for Our Economic Future is a three-year project that resulted in philanthropy coming together to work with companies to form and support early-stage capital investment in new and exciting businesses in energy, biotechnology and manufacturing. The Fund has proven success in spawing several non-profits such as Jumpstart, Bioenterprise and Nortech which, in turn have fostered development of several promising businesses. Lorain county has pushed this region-wide effort through Team Lorain County whose leverage of State and Federal economic revitalization dollars have resulted in the IIE and GLIDE.

Suppose the P-16 Compact in this region were to harness the that same innovative spirit and apply it to education. The economic reality has shown this region that the old way of doing business has changed forever and will not return. In response the community has adapted brilliantly. The education reality in the county, especially the urban areas also has proven that the old way of doing education is not working and needs to be rethought and injected with a spirit of innovation.

A really exciting P-16 would take inventory of what the market is doing anyway, and demand that tax dollars, earmarked for public education be redirected to products and programs that are known to work in other settings. A sincere P-16, linked to two centers for innovation would set up offices to implement programs – proved effective in a non-public school structure, and look to see how this “product” can improve and/or replace the old. Authors, Joseph Keeney and Daniel Pianko pose a question that any credible P-16 in an area truly looking for innovation needs to ask:

…are there concrete models from outside education that could be employed by government or philanthropies to attract and leverage private investment in K-12. Specifically – in order of formality – an a prize (or pay for performance) model that is increasingly being used in philanthropy, and angel capital model like the Department of Defense’s Venture Catalyst Initiative (“DeVenCI”); and a traditional venture-capital co-investment model like the Central Intelligence Agency’s In-Q-Tel.

Suppose a Community College and a Innovation Zone were to demand that the Governor create an Innovation District allowing the schools leverage to implement exciting technologies that are proving effective in learning. (See the work of Constance Steinkulher at U. Wisconsin on the positive impact gaming has on education outcomes for urban youth).  That zone (perhaps established at the LCCC) would lift all barriers to school innovation including contracting, labor contracts and technological restrictions to create an open environment for educational programming in Lorain Schools.

The P-16 needs to look at the market and what is catalyzing capital investment in education. Imagine an Educational Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center that housed regional affiliates of programs such as:

Teach for America,KIPP SchoolsAchievement FirstYesPrep High Tech High and The New Teacher Project and allowed these programs to set up programs within Lorain County schools.  The teachers union and school board would become apoplectic at first, but if P-16 were to establish benchmarks for success and offered to compare them to typical public school outcomes would in effect set a competition for success and raise the bar.

Since much of the success in schools depends on the often overlooked area of professional development and teacher training, suppose a center for innovation included programs such as Building Excellent Schools or, New Leaders for New Schools and house these organizations in the same edifice with the Educational Services Center.  Put them in the same edifice as one would see at the Entrepreneurship Institute or Jumpstart and see how the culture of professional development changes.  State funding for professional development to the ESC is in the area of $900,000 a year.  Imagine a situation where, with the buy-in and support from the P-16 those dollars were distributed to organizations like those named above based on performance outcome and innovation.  That would be a very different scenario from the one envisioned by the Knowledgeworks publication.  It is also one that would meet with incredible resistance from the entrenched powers of the educational bureaucracy that by its nature serves  as the primary barrier to innovation in education.

Rather than being seen as the enemy, a P-16 community would invite the challenge posed by Kim Smith of the New Schools Venture Fund as posted on Academic Earth.

P-16 is a great idea conceptually.  To be truly innovative, those that believe in creating schools that will work can only do so by opening the doors to creativity and innovation and borrow from success in the business sector.  I fear it cannot be done as long as P-16 is driven by the public education sector.  The public education sector – with its drive to standardize a profession which really should be an art has created a system that does not validate the creativity of individual teachers but dumbs them down into cogs that do their job to push out statistics which happen to be yours a my children. More on that in the next blog post.

As far as convening the community to focus on developing so-called 21st century skills once again, I fear the focus on workforce development and standards does not address the larger challenges youngsters will face in the next decades.  Not asking the right questions will have terrible results.  If you have the time view this amazing lecture by Physician Dr. Patrick Dixon to an audience at the National Association of Independent Schools. After viewing it, ask yourself if you think we are asking the right questions.

I suggest that any foundation – be it community foundation, private foundation or corporate asked to support a P-16 collaborative hold public officials responsible for demanding innovation that goes beyond tinkering we have seen with far too many public school efforts. True innovation will require breaking down barriers that exist which prevent truly innovative thinkers and practitioners from sharing public  tax dollars that shore up far too many ineffective school districts and professional development programs.  Philanthropy has a responsibility to raise the bar and require the public in general to hold educational leaders responsible for creating an environment that will respond to the needs of divergent learning and quality education for all.

I welcome comments from those in the system and those who are simply interested.

Philanthropy, Politics and the "Religion" of Public Schools

Many of my previous posts have chronicled my involvement in the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s efforts to gather input from “multi-stakeholders” who,  in some way, influence education in the State of Ohio.  The result is a publication for the Governor which I have talked about.  Several weeks since the publication the blow-back has begun to be felt.  The Governor received input from several other constituency groups but none as diverse as OGF’s.   In my opinion, the most promising recommendations from our report were not included, but more on that later. I would like to post a few thoughts on this interesting process.  The experience revealed many interesting interactions between politics, philanthropy and school-think.

First, it is now very evident to me that dealing with public school is analogous to dealing with institutional religion.  The good comes with the bad.  The battles are as intense and based in “belief” systems that, at times defy rational thought – and data.  Discussion can be stopped by strong convictions by the faithful who are convinced they have a corner on truth.  Such is the case in religion, and so it is -(I find) with devotees of public schooling.    People I have met who defend public schools defend their belief with the zeal of converts.  And as Shakespeare once said, “An overflow of converts – to bad.”    It is my experience that when I or anyone else offers a critique of “the public school system” the comments are tolerated at best but received with a low growl making me feel as if I an uttering heresy against the tenants of “public schooling.”  In Lorain County, where I live, my questioning of public schooling was met with the ultimate salvo – “Union-buster!” uttered by a university professor who teaches “education.”     Given the permissions that power and control offer, criticism of public schooling as we know it are often met with undertones of threat that can only be launched by those who are certain that what they are defending is true.  Such people make it very difficult for political leaders and for foundations to make any real impact on changing education.  I often think this is what it must be like for a neutral politician having to introduce political reform with mullahs in Iran.  So, I have come to learn that one must take small steps when trying to influence education policy – especially when representing an institution that has a large endowment and which, has the ability to exercise some political influence as well.  It is an intricate dance.

It is probably no surprise to discover that foundation personnel can bring their own beliefs about public schooling to the table when providing advice to political leaders.   In my opinion foundations should try very hard to base their policies on evidence and knowledge drawn from evaluation of projects they have funded.  That is the only authority by which they can contribute to political discourse.

In the field of philanthropy, there is no consensus as to how to support public schooling in the United States.  There are people and organizations that can tend to attract people of similar mind-set and experience.  Grantmakers for Education is a great organization that supports foundations that support a variety of projects.  GFE tends to attract foundations that are sincerely interested in reforming public education as we know it.  There have few  sessions addressing the future of education and influence in alternative ways of learning – although that is changing.  Philanthropy Roundtable is a fantastic organization that attracts a more conservative group of funders.  Roundtable hosts regional programs and site visits to innovative schools that tend to be charter and sometime voucher schools.  It would be fair to say that the Roundtable members would be more likely to support alternative educational business models that demonstrate success in learning.

In many ways, philanthropy and those who work in it, reflect the diversity of opinion held by the general public.   Personal belief can influence objectivity when philanthropy begins to take on policy as an organized front.  There, we need to exercise supreme caution.   As alluded to above, I have come to the realization that offering critique of public education is as dangerous as critiquing  a person or group’s religious beliefs.  There is a strong cultural aesthetic that if pushed too far, could have negative repercussions for the sector.  So again, caution is offered and here’s why.

The American public generally believes  in the universal access to education espoused by the founders of this Republic.  It should – universal education in the U.S. is the reason why the democratic experience has worked for 250 years.  Over the years, that concept has been institutionalized in a public schooling system which is as much a part of the American aesthetic experience as churches.  The variety of ways in which education is expressed has been the “public school” – typically a brick building with a flag on the front lawn, run by principals who lord over the function of the teachers in classrooms.  There is equal diversity about how the actual curriculum should be conducted and assessed.  The storm around the barrage of testing NCLB has produced is only one example of what and how assessment can take place.    That’s the way it has been for years and that is the way many people would like it to remain.  Public schools have a romanticized aesthetic to it that includes yearbooks, proms and most importantly sport’s teams.  Films like  like Hoosiers, and Television shows like Friday Night Lights celebrate the American aesthetic experience of high school by romanticizing stories of public schools and the role they play in the civic life of the community.  This is American public schools as believers see it, much like Bing Crosby’s role as Father O’Malley in  The Bells of Saint Mary’s romanticized but served as the iconic representation of the ideal of the Catholic Church in the 1940’s.  Hoosiers does not capture the agony of union disputes nor does the Bells of St. Mary’s capture alcohol or sex abuse that ran parallel to the aesthetic.  Probably one of the most relevant films on the role of public schools and their place in the community was the recent series by NOVA on the battle over intelligent design. (A must see).

My frustration withGovernor Strickland’s plan to change public schooling in Ohio is that he seems to be bowing to the romanticized notion of what public schools  should be.   I mentioned that he got advice from many constituencies with huge influence from leaders in the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Federation of Teachers .  Let us not forget that these two entities represent strong voting blocks and as such, a group any political leader does not necessarily want to alienate.  The problem is the ODE and the OFT are entrenched entities that have an interest in maintaining power and control over the way the educational system is run.  Much like the Roman curia or a Houses of Bishops, mullahs or any other gathering of “elders,”  this organization will not only justify but its reason to control how public schooling is shaped but it will also fight if need be.  Retribution can be fierce and good lawyers can be hired to contest any opposition.  Much like a religious hierarchy, the structure needs to maintain strong vertical reporting structures.  Control is easily maintained with a unified understanding and approach to the religious teaching.  Organizations of this type cannot handle diversity of opinion and clearly have no room for experimentation.

I have found that the ODE, the OFT and even some program officers in philanthropy can thwart innovative programming by making appeals to what I call  the god of research.  Clearly there is a need to have solid research around quality programming.  In fact there is too little research funded by philanthropy as indicated in the last chapter of Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class.  The problem I see however is that too much of the education research suffers from what Ellen Gondfliffe Langemann writes in her book An Elusive Science – The Troubling History of Education Research

I believe it would not be inaccurate to say that the most powerful forces to have shaped educational scholarship over the last century have tended to push the field in unfortunate directions – away from close interactions with policy and practice and toward excessive quantification and scientism. p ix.

The Governor had an opportunity to implement some truly innovative programs that could launch education in Ohio into the 21st century appears to have caved  to the zealots of public schools who are more comfortable with 19th century schooling because they know it and can control it.   His policies to shut down on charter schools, eliminate “early-college” programs  and to focus on improved testing looks to me like a reactive attempt by the State to clamp down on opposition and innovation and demand conformity to thought and ultimately this idea of public schools.  Much of this is fueled by an important voting block – the Ohio Teacher Union.  Some of it supported by program officers who tend to favor quantified educational data before making a move.   I think that is an easy out allowing people to hold back  support for innovative programs that diverge from the public school norm.  In reality hiding behind data can be interpreted as an attempt to appeal to the power brokers like School Superintendents of large metropolitan areas, State Superintendents of Schools and ultimately Governors.

To me, the action from the Governor’s mansion  looks like the Vatican and its need to control uniformity of thinking with little tolerance for oppositional thinking.  (Women’s ordination, liberation theology, contraception, even teaching faculty at catholic universities are only a few of the issues that have met with little tolerance on the part of the curia).  This administration cannot tolerate any innovative change in education that takes place outside the paradigm and control of the State Department of Education and the Board of Regents.

Just as theists accept the proposition that God exists, so too public school devotees posit that public schools (which is different from public schooling), should and must exist for the benefit of the community.  How that concept of public schools is expressed is as varied as they way Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims and all other religions develop aesthetic.  Each has an aesthetic and iconography based on their respective interpretations of what the word of god means to them and their followers.  The analogy can easily flip to the area of education where there is certainly no unanimity of thought about how learning can and should take place.  Just read my previous post called “Philanthropy, Education and Class -what are we thinking?” which discusses the work of. Dr. Kusserow on how class affects parents educational expectations for their childrens education and the people who teach them.

Elected officials have an ostensible allegiance to the voting constituency who put them in office but politicians must also appeal to general consensus if they want to be reelected.   They must also figure out how to raise the general public to act out of virtue and pursue what which is wise.  Just like people in philanthropy, elected officials are stewards of that form of public money.  Often, what is thought to be general consensus, especially in highly emotional issues such as schooling, might not be grounded in practical wisdom.  Too often, irrational belief trumps rational  judgement resulting in decisions that might be politically expedient but fundamentally unwise.  The challenge for any elected leader is how to manage truly innovative and imaginative education policy dealing with a strong political force that is poised to destroy you if you diverge too far from their own interest.

Unlike politics, foundations do not have to appeal to voters.  Their constituency is smaller – i.e. the trustees that serve on the boards and the communities they serve.   A community foundation is comprised of members of that community and more often than not, has purview to restrict grants within a geographic area.  The board is typically comprised of people who live in the community and experience the rhythm of daily life in places like Cleveland.   The director of a community foundation must appeal to current donors who also advise officers on how and where to direct distributions.  He or she must also try to find new donors who will be comfortable with making financial contributions that will increase the size of the foundation’s endowment, and thereby increase the amount of funds for charity.

A family and/or private foundation is different from community foundations because it is comprised of members who have ties to those who established the foundation (typically a successful ancestor).  Members of these foundations may or may not be living in those communities, and by nature of their election to the board, may be one-step removed from the political pressures a community foundation may have.  A family and/or private foundation operates from the endowment established by the ancestor.  It does not have to raise new money from the community.  As an institution, it does not have to dance as much around the politics that come into play with controversial issues.  That being said I must qualify that  if a private foundation engages in  education funding, that organization has a supreme obligation to conduct research on why education programs succeed.  It has a duty to support programs that promise to bring new-thinking to how education is conducted.  Free from some of the constraints to think with the rest of the community, the private foundations can seek out and support those who are not afraid to go against the grain and raise our sites to that which is virtuous and right in modeling moral skill.  It  can and should seek out programs and people that demonstrate wisdom but also brilliance.

A family foundation that fund education must have a high tolerance to permit improvisation and allow itself and organizations to fail occasionally.  Its staff and trustees need to be mentored by wise teachers, and the staff must learn how to learn how to respond wisely to  brilliant and gifted people in the field.  As I will reference below, wisdom without brilliance is not enough.

There is a nuanced but important difference here, and nothing is a better illustration of this than foundation involvement in public school education.  Similar to the constituency issue our Governor faces, Community Foundations must be careful not to ruffle the feathers too much of the standard concept of public schools.  Community Foundation must also guide the lead the larger community with practical wisdom drawn from experience and research.  Most, if not all, succeed in doing that.  As I mentioned above, concepts of public schooling are based in what I see as a “religion of public schools” which are grounded in the belief that public school is a good thing.  In the ideal, public school levels the playing field for all citizens and is an egalitarian solution to the need to educate all children. Teachers unions are strong voting blocks.  In the economically ravaged mid-west, teachers and their unions are a solid source of employment.  In challenging times, people are scared so any challenge to the unions and their membership will be perceived as a threat to livelihood.  The push-back will be fierce.  Community foundations must be sensitive to the political factions in the communities it serves and thereby may be more risk-averse to change in school bureaucracies.

Getting back to practical applications of my theorizing, the philanthropic effort by OGF to involve stakeholders in the effort to advise the governor how to prepare Ohio Schools for the 21st Century had its fallout.  The document contains recommendations for significant change to the way teachers can be dismissed, and receive tenure.

In a follow-up meeting with the head of the Ohio Teachers Union, the OGF team was informed by the union head that OGF  had “misrepresented” the views of the Union leadership.   That was a disappointing response.  I was in the meeting when the draft of the final document was being discussed.  There was no confusion about what was to be put into the document.   The representative warned the “multi-stakeholders” this would be a controversial set of recommendations.  When I heard the feedback that the union’s felt the recommendations were “missrepresented” we all wondered what happened.  One can only assume that when the recommendations were made to the membership, they pushed back vigorously and the leader had to find an “out.”   This is a coward’s game, but one that is all part of the cycnical system depicted in the clips I provide in earlier posts from The HBO  series “The Wire.”Therein lies the blowback.  When pushed to the wall, political interests will claim they were maligned, or misrepresented.  It lacks moral will to do the right thing. It lacks virtue.

Governor Strickland and his staff are beginning to take heat for what came out.  The results of thousands of dollars and hours of people’s time, is an education “plan” that reads like a document from the Vatican of the Religion of Public Schools.  The plan reads like a dogmatic dictum that will assert the State power of public schools across the country.  The Governor’s staff calls the plan “Historic Reform” Yet my read is that is incorporates few of the innovative recommendations from the Ohio Grantmakers Forum group.  In fact, it ignores the number one recommendation to create innovation districts in the county modeled on Colorado’s Innovative Schools Act of 2008.  This idea, if passed would lift the typical barriers to innovation in schools and allow teachers to be creative in addressing student learning styles.  Technology would be introduced to support these learning styles and a focused plan for teacher professional development would complement this plan.  Instead, we have a plan that extend the school day (with no allowance for new teaching styles), reformed tests for assessment and – most schocking a clamp down on charter schools and early college programs all of which show early signs of true innovation in learning.   The Dayton Daily News for Sunday March 8, 2009 ran an editorial voicing  a very succinct and clear protest of the Governor’s attempt to take this drastic and unnecessary action.

Foundations can and should continue to fund charter schools as well as initiative such as the early college programs.

I wish all members of the OGF Task Force including the public school bureaucrats could spend time viewing this remarkable talk by Barry Schwartz during the 2009 TED Conference.  Listen especially around miniute 9:30 and on.

In my opinion, philanthropy in general, and family philanthropy in particular should constantly question and challenge the educational system in this country.  In fidelity to the successful businessmen and women who created companies that account for the wealth, family philanthropy should push public schools to adopt strategies that will increase efficiency, honor professionalism but most importantly succeed by adopting practical wisdom to the endeavor.  This role can be played out by funding models that appear to work – like the KIPP Schools, the National Association of Street Schools, the Cristo Rey and Nativity schools, and successful programs such as CAST and Project Lead the Way.  They should support the research that will help bring them to scale in cities and rural areas across the country.   Public schools need not be afraid of these models, and would do well to apply practical wisdom among their leadership.

To repeat the words of Dr. Schwartz, foundations  and especially political leaders (and even the general public) need to reconnect to a sense of virtue and practical wisdom as it shapes an education plan for the next decade.  It must embrace new concepts and technologies and support new and exciting applications of brain research to learning.  In fact we need to revise the very way that educational research has been conducted on the district and state level.  We must move from an empasis on outdated metrics to more entrepreneurial problem solving approaches to education.

In his book The Future of Educational Entrepreneurship, Frederick Hess writes,

The public dollars that comprise more than 90 percent of all k-12 spending rarely support entrepreneurial problem-solving.  This meand that philanthropic giving, which accounts for a fraction of 1 percent of educational spending, has played an outsized role in the launch of new ventures like the KIPP Academies, Aspire Public Schools, New Leaders for New Schools and Teach for America.  Because k-12 education is nominated by government spending and because this money is consumed in salaries and operations, precious little is invested in research and development of new ventures.  Outside of the limited funding for charter school facilities and start-up costs, almost none of it support entrepreneurial activity.

In the private sector, the torrent of venture capital is accompanied by an ecosystem of institutions and actors that provide quality control, support new ventures and selectively target resources.  In education, especially when it comes to directing philanthropic dollars, such infrastructure is sparse.  The venture-capital communities that have sprung up in corridors like Silcon Valley and Route 128 in Boston are not plugged into K-12 education and equivalents do not exist in the world of schooling.

History has shown that Religion abhors scientific discovery.  Until the national community is willing to break out of its religious belief in a public school model that no longer represents the needs for 21st century learning skills, we will continue to be dominated by the dictums of those who control the religions of public school.  Practical wisdom will prevail and foundations have a role by giving voice to those who espouse it in education.

Collaboration in times of economic downturn – challenges for foundations, business and the public sector

I spoke about the foundation’s response to economic downturn in a previous post.  My colleagues from other foundations have been talking about the fact that the economic downturn and scarce resources will create an urgency for nonprofits to “figure out ways” to merge and collaborate better.  On January 13th Cleveland’s WCPN public radio show called, The Sound of Ideas held great conversation on a topic called When Charities Can’t Afford to be Charitable.

The concept is great and I support my respected colleagues comments.  I once heard it said, “Everyone wants collaboration, but no one wants to be collaborated on.”   In my work at this foundation,  I have seen redundancy in programs in both nonprofit and public sectors,  many of which have received grants from us.    I see an awful lot of waste in private and taxpayer dollars, but I must be careful not to appear the perennial town crier.  I, like many foundations and their board members,  like to consider ourselves social innovators on the lookout to support like-minded  social innovators and social entrepreneurs.  After all, that’s what the philanthropy industry is supposed to promote.  The  fall 2008 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review an article called Rediscovering Social Innovation by James A. Phillis, Jr.; Kriss Deigelmeier, & Dale T. Miller describe what many foundation directors, program officers and their boards hope to be in their service to the  community,

The underlying objective of virtually everyone in the fields of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise is to create social value (a term we define later).  People have embraced these fields because they are new ways of achieving these larger ends.  But they are not the only, and certainly not always the best, ways to achieve these goals.  Social entrepreneurs are, of course, important because they see new patterns and possibilities for innovation and are willing to bring these new ways of doing things to fruition even when established organizations are unwilling to try them.  And enterprises are important because they deliver innovation.  But ultimately, innovation is what creates social value.  Innovation can emerge in places and from people outside the scope of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise.  In particular, large, established nonprofits, businesses, and even governments are producing social innovations.” p. 89

I can think of one crisis in particular our foundation has taken on and has asking for community leaders  to explore innovative ways to better serve the needs of the medically uninsured and under insured in our community.  I have discovered that is a huge task and one wrought with landmines.

In 2008 the foundation provided funds to facilitate conversations and strategies to address the growing number  of uninsured and under-insured people in the county.  The foundation paid a consultant to assemble representatives of “established nonprofits, businesses, and even government” with the purpose of providing an “idea mart” to see if we could come up with innovative solutions to the crisis at-hand.  The conversations continue but I observe a decrease in interest and engagement especially when the conversation gets a little too close for comfort.


You see, I think we at foundations do a good job of convening meetings and encouraging people to submit themselves to be collaborated on!   It is clear to me however that convening people who represent long-standing institutions often with a history of relative financial stability,  go into protective mode very quickly when it becomes clear their entity is being critiqued.  Too often, the jobs in public health institutions, federally funded agencies and nonprofit organizations develop around an administrative personality.  In these cases, I have found very often that critique of the organization and perhaps a questioning of its relevance is interpreted as a criticism.  The individual in charge of that agency becomes defensive; feeling vulnerable to the exposure that peer-to-peer conversation can produce.

I have learned that making collaboration work depends in  great measure to sustaining urgency.  Urgency is fueled by passion – a passion that derives from visiting places like the Lorain Free Clinic or, emergency rooms at the charity hospitals.  It is a passion that derives from knowing people for whom the economic downturn is proving not just a misfortune but a disaster.  Any healthy human being to wants to “do-something” when one touches that level of suffering.

A person with a sense of social entrepreneurship and the funding to support innovation, will by nature want to ask, why the system seem to not be working well and how can a constituency be served better.  The response  means more than just convening the meetings.  The convener must have  the expertise (in-house or external) to keep the conversation and going and to keep the participants focused on the passion and urgency.   Foundations typically hire consultants to take on that task.  Although consultants do their jobs very well, it is my experience that “hiring” the consultant removes the foundation one step from the center of the activity.  If the foundation convenes the meeting to address and urgent problem, then it is my opinion that the foundation  (or collaborative of foundations) should try to maintain a visible role and presence in the conversations.  If not, the sense of urgency may dissipate.  I believe fully that foundations can serve to keep passion buoyant in rational civic discourse.

Too often, people come to meetings, agree on the urgency of the problem and are sincere in their desire to find solutions.  They come willing to contribute and discuss.   Few come prepared to really think about giving up they way they have been doing things.

The public health disaster in our county is a good example.  The county which is 25 miles west of Cleveland has a population of  280,000.   There are three separate public health entities – two city agencies Lorain City Health Department and the Elyria City  Health Department as well as the  Lorain County Health District.    These entities were created in the 19th century when the cities of Elyria and Lorain were rapidly increasing in population due to the need for labor in the steel industry, auto industry, shipbuilding and manufacturing.  Immigrant labor poured into the region.  Public health agencies were created to address the reality of contagious diseases.  The hospitals, (primarily charity hospitals run by orders of Catholic religious women) were created to deal with chronic disease and tertiary care.

Today, the cities are emptying out as the industries that sustained families have left the area.  The second and third generation of the immigrant families have left town, or move to subdivisions that were once farms outside the towns.  The cities now have families and elderly who live at or below the federal poverty level.

As we explore ways to reinvent health care delivery in the county, one of our questions has been, “In an age of technology and rapid information exchange, are three separate public health offices really necessary and relevant?”  We agree, they continue to serve medically indigent populations in very specific state funded programs, but in most cases they deal with people suffering chronic disease – something public health agencies were never really created or equipped to do.  Also what is the role of a public health agency when down the street, Walgreens (“America’s Online Pharmacy”) offers patients in-store clinics.  If you can come up with enough cash, you can be seen and treated by a health-care affiliate and given a prescription for your illness and pick it up at the in-house pharmacy conveniently located next to the health clinic.

Walgreens clinic

In the case of the health care coalition the foundation convened, the catalyst was the sense of urgency around the news that the Lorain County Health and Dentistry – which provides significant health care to medically uninsured or underinsured – did not recieve a $700,000 operating grant from the Federal Government.  The charity hospitals gave compelling evidence of the number of patients flooding their emergency rooms to treat the uninsured.  The Nord Mental Health Center, which treat patients with mental and behavioral diseases. reports a steady increase in the number of new patients requireing services, attirbuted in some measure to sresses associated with the economic depression.

The health situation is in crisis but after a year of conversation, it was difficult to get people to really change the way they did business.  In particular, it was hard to have the public health agencies roll-up sleeves  with the charity hospitals to explore possible innovations in combining  services.  Perhaps this can be attributed to the realization that such a move would constitute the elimination of the public health service system as it is currently structured.  Similarly, the Nord Behavioral Health Center, which is a nonprofit agency with almost 85% of its revenue channeled through the Lorain County Board of Mental Health has undergone convulsive administrative challenges with board members spending tax dollars to sue each other.  Conversations to explore how the charitable hospitals could take over many of the emergency services and need for in-patient beds is too threatening for people to contemplate.  So, after the initial good-faith effort to talk, the parties go into protective mode.  The desire to collaborate is threatening when one realizes one is about to be collaborated on!  Meanwhile people that need the services are hampered by services that are difficult to access which is why people still flood the emergency rooms when they need health care.

The Fund for Our Economic Future is a collaboration of virtually all the grantmaking institutions in Northeast Ohio.  For more than four years FFEF has gathered regularly to address the need for economic transformation in the Northeast Ohio region.  Aside from is main function which is to pool funds to provide early stage venture capital for organizations that promise to create new businesses for the region, the Fund has hosted several meetings of “stakeholders” to provide a strategy for how the region can move out of its economic stasis.  The first was the incredibly expensive and nominally productive engagement with AmericaSpeaks which evolved into the highly productive and provocative arm of the Fund called Advance Northeast Ohio. Aside from pushing the public to engage in conversations about how to move the economy forward, Advance Northeast Ohio, the fund, as well as several foundations funded the production of a study demonstrating the cost inefficiencies in doing government in NE Ohio.  The document is called, Cost of Government Study for Northeast Ohio.  Subsequent feedback from the larger community in NE Ohio shows that citzens want to see more collaboration among government agencies.   Few know how to get there.   All realized there are too many separately  incorporated towns  and small cities in the region, each with very expensive infrastructure.  These towns developed in the mid 1800’s when transportation and communication infrastructure were primitive and it made good sense to have government pockets serve scattered populations.  Today is makes no sense whatsoever to have separate jurisdictions when collaboration and shared services would probably result in costs savings to taxpayers.

Unfortunately, getting public entities to change their administrative structure (which would mean eliminating some jobs) or, to give up power (probably the MOST guarded treasure for elected officials) is practially an impossible task.

As long as tax dollars and State and Federal monies continue to support these organizations, there is little incentive for people to change.  The reality is that the economic crisis may result in drastic cutbacks that will force agencies to close and services to be eliminated.

As foundations look to encourage collaboration, they might do well to read a great new book by John Kotter, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School.  Dr. Kotter does a great job describing how business loose their sense of urgency.  The same applies to public and private entities when they begin an initiative to make change in society.

In addition to Dr. Kotter’s call for groups to understand the role of Urgency in social interaction, a recent article in the December 2008 edition of the Harvard Business Review, called Which Kind of Collaboration is Right for You by Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti.  This is a great article best described by as side script that says, The new leaders in innovation will be those who figure out the best way to leverage a network of outsiders.”   The authors describe four modes of collaborative innovation which are:

The Elite Circle in which one company selects the participants, defines the problem and chooses the solutions.

The Innovation Mall where one company posts a problem, anyone can propose solutions and the company chooses the solutions it likes best.

The Innovative Community where anybody can propose problems, offer solutions and decide which solutions to use.

The Consortium Which operates like a private club, with participants jointly selecting the problems, deciding how to conduct work and choosing solutions.

Each of these models have correlates in the public sector.  I will end this post with a quote from the article in question.  Although it is directed to companies, I suggest foundations that urge collaboration read it with an eye to their  admonition that non-profits and the public sector figure out ways to merge and collaborate.  It is – no doubt – easier said than done.

All to often firms(foundations?) jump into relationships without considering their structure and organizing principles – what we call the collaborative architecture.  To help senior managers (read public officials and nonprofit leaders?) make better decisions about the kinds of collaboration their companies adopt, we have developed a relatively simple framework.  The product of our 20 years of research and consulting in this area, it focuses on two basic questions.  Given your strategy, how open or closed should your firms network of collaborators be? And who should decide which problems the network will takle and which solutions will be adopted?”   p.80

I am encouraged by the fact that many people I make reference to in this post continue to come to the table to discuss the issue because they do have the best interest of the community at heart.  The fact is this economy is only beginning to reveal the hard choices and sacrifices we face as a community.   People are meeting that challenge overcoming a fear of the unknown.