Thursday, June 11, 2015

Collaboratives and Capacity

As an evaluator, I get to see a lot of things. One of the many things I’ve learned is that quality programming is tied to the capacity of the organization to deliver that programming. TCC Group, the company that now employs me, has an instrument called the CCAT ( that helps organizations assess themselves along four core capacities - adaptive, leadership, management, and technical. If you are interested, you are more than welcome to have a look.

However, I’m not writing to just speak to individual organizational capacities, but issues of capacity within collaboratives. One of the “strengths” of a collaborative is that individual organizations can share resources - the old adage, “the rising tide floats all boats”. The statement sounds trite and to some degree it is. Just because there is some “extra” capacity in the community or collaborative, it doesn’t mean that it is recognized as such, much as less shared.

In the tenets of Collective Impact is the concept of a “Backbone Organization”. The job of this organization is to support the collaborative efforts of the organizations involved. Taken from a view of capacity, the Backbone Organization would be the one to identify the capacity needs and work within the collaborative (and outside as necessary), to find the resources to fill those needs. In my last role, I developed assessments of capacity for the organizations building collaboratives across many communities across the United States. I wish we would have used the tool here at TCC with some modifications - as it would have saved a great amount of time (but I digress).

While having a collective provides opportunity for finding untapped resources, there are more complications. In my own work, I’ve considered the following along with other issues:

  • What are the needed resources? Is it access to Human Resources support, staffing, equipment?
  • Where are the needed resources? Are they reasonably close that the organization needing them can use them? Are they at the level needed?
  • What efforts are necessary to ensure the resources are usable? Having access to internet bandwidth might be needed, but is there also a need for Information Technology support as well to ensure the bandwidth is usable?
  • What are the relationships of the organizations? Are they able to collaborate together beyond working on a similar goal?
  • Are issues of over-provision of services in the community and additional service deserts?

Some tools I’ve found to be of help are GIS Mapping and Network Analysis.

GIS mapping allows for looking at the big picture. It doesn’t hurt to know about where services are being delivered and where there is unnecessary overlap. Simply adjusting service areas can provide needed support to the community without any additional resources. It also allows the Backbone to map out capacity needs and resources, to look at feasibility of shared support or needs for specific organizations. That van isn’t all that useful if it is owned and used by another organization that is clear across town.

Network Analysis not only can help in mapping out and understanding relationships between organizations, but it can also be used to assess the sharing of resources. Over time, you can assess shifts in flow of resources as well as keep track of needed capacities.

This brings me around to my push for Evaluation as an Intervention. To be effective, the backbone of any collaborative or for that matter, the leadership of an organization really need to understand their capacities and how they can be brought to bear. The results of a capacity evaluation done in a repeated fashion allow these leaders to make the necessary changes (and identify where those changes can be found within their system).

As always, I’m open to your comments, suggestions, and questions. Please fell free to post in the comments section.


Best regards,

Charles Gasper

The Evaluation Evangelist

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