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Evaluating Leadership and Community Change: Some Reflections from Leadership Chautauqua


I had the pleasure of being a catalyst host for a conversation on evaluating community leadership and community change with Becky Kroll and Diane Morehouse at Leadership Chautauqua. They have worked extensively in hard-to-reach communities evaluating leadership and community transformation through their work with Horizons, a community leadership initiative to reduce poverty in the small towns of the Northwestern United States.  Here is a short list of resources we created on evaluating community leadership and community change for our session on Changing Expectations:  Targeting and Measuring Impact on Community Change.

One theme discussed during our session was the challenges of evaluating the long-term impact of community leadership programs.  We acknowledged that while there are often short-term outcomes we can measure at the conclusion of a program, that much of the value that community leadership programs create takes time to incubate and become visible.  Unfortunately, few evaluations are designed to measure long-term impact so we miss much of the change that happens.  

Another challenge is the lack of clarity around what community outcomes and results are desired.  An example was given of the Leadership in Action Program which demonstrated the potential to achieve community level impacts (e.g., increasing the number of children entering school ready to learn) in one measurement cycle by bringing a cohort of leaders into high action and high alignment around that result.  When desired community results are fuzzy and unfocused, then participants and program staff bring less intention to the community change they are trying to create, and the likelihood of achieving it decreases.

Another challenge we identified is that evaluations oftentimes are scheduled for the end of a program thus missing out on the real-time feedback which can be helpful to program designers and participants. Taking a more developmental approach to evaluation could have the benefit of providing useful feedback in real-time, and tracking the seeds of change that offer promise to grow and develop over time.  We also suggested that integrating reflective evaluation with the program could reduce costs and build capacity of participants and program staff to develop an evaluation mindset towards their work.

A strong point of view emerged during the session about the value of sharing community leadership evaluation methodologies and findings widely so that we can build on each other’s work and not reinvent the wheel.  Having evaluations publicly available also makes it possible to do a meta-analysis of community leadership programs so we can learn how design affects outcomes, and develop more valid tools to measure community change.  

How do these themes resonate with your experience evaluating leadership and community change?  Are you aware of innovative approaches to track long-term community leadership impact?  Have you found that programs that focus intentionally on community results from the outset are more likely to achieve and evaluate those results?  How have you integrated evaluation into the program design to make it more useful in real-time? How do we as a field encourage the sharing of evaluation findings more broadly?