Archive for

On being a generalist in a specialist world

There’s a lot to be said about having deep, expert knowledge. And the world is on a trajectory that points to specialized knowledge as powerful and valuable.

Maybe it’s the liberal arts background in me, or the unquenchable curiosity that I have, but it’s hard for me NOT to take a blended, interdisciplinary approach toward most things – including social Impact. There’s power in combining the lessons we’ve learned from for- and non-profit sectors across all types of industries.

Being a social impact consulting firm, we at Blue Garnet are often pulled into discussions with organizational leaders regarding strategy and evaluation. The vast majority of the time, these are separate conversations:

  • Conversation 1: What can we do to take our mission achievement to the next level? How do we make the most impact?
  • Conversation 2: What is our “impact story”? How do we demonstrate the impact that we are having and/or can have?

In the social sector, we tend to pick up and put on our “strategist” hat or our “evaluation and learning” hat. And we start our conversation on one or the other. But the fact is, strategy and evaluation are, and should be, mutually reinforcing. They are the yin and yang of social impact. They are the same hat.

We recently listened to a webinar from CNM on their survey of the nonprofit sector in Southern California. Among their interesting findings, they found that one of the top five priorities for nonprofit leaders is to conduct evaluations and outcomes measurements. And as evaluation and learning partners to our clients, we are very excited to hear this! That said, organizations that align strategy and evaluation can create greater, and more measurable, impact. Blue Garnet strives to expand and guide our clients in broader discussion on how to best make meaningful change—integrating strategy and evaluation into one conversation from the start.

Of course, aligning strategy and evaluation can be challenging. These are distinct disciplines that are often siloed and need to be bridged. This work is also messy and non-linear, requiring patience and continued support.

But fear not! It is actually possible and, in fact, highly worth it. How? By starting with the end in mind and relying on a growth mindset.

Intrigued? Check out this video of a workshop I gave at UCLA Anderson. If you have a good chunk of time, I invite you to watch the whole thing (in my completely unbiased opinion, I think it’s pretty educational!) If you want to delve into some specific examples, the first example about a charter school system considering scaling starts at 26:55. Also, stay tuned for an upcoming blog on concrete tips for putting into action integrating strategy formation and evaluation and learning!

We need both generalists and specialists to solve our world’s complex problems; both bring unique strengths to the table. The good news – we make great partners!  We can bridge disciplines to make and measure more change, and you bring the deep knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Feel free to drop a line to talk more! way-ting@bluegarnet.net