Project Evident Update
One Year Later: Catching Up With Our Spring 2020 Talent Accelerator Cohort
Project Evident’s Talent Accelerator program uses an equity frame to help a diverse cohort of practitioners strengthen their data, decision-making, and evidence-building skills to improve outcomes. Over the course of 20 weeks, participants build the capacity to generate and use data and evidence for program improvement through a virtual cohort model that includes a mix of group sessions, individualized coaching, and peer-to-peer consultation. The program also builds a community of practitioners who are intentional about integrating equity into their evidence-building processes and practices.
Our first Talent Accelerator cohort ran from January through June of 2020. Together, the group navigated the early days of the pandemic, moving from mostly to entirely virtual, adapting trainings to be responsive to new organizational needs, and leaning on one another for support and learning.
A year later, we wanted to follow up with our cohort participants to understand how they were doing, and what (if any) impact the Talent Accelerator has had on their work. While our conversations covered a range of topics from staffing changes and budget cuts to data maps and logic models, we heard several themes emerge around what participants have taken from the program:
Stronger ability to adapt to new operating contexts
When the pandemic first struck, like many of our practitioner partners, we were unsure of the impacts it would have on our program. We didn’t know if Talent Accelerator participants would still be able to dedicate the time and energy they initially planned to. However, we were pleasantly surprised that all of our participating organizations remained in the program, and many expressed that they were even able to deepen their engagement. “It would have been incredibly valuable and impactful no matter what,” shared Jessica Teperow, Director of Prevention Programs at REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, “but I think that when things came to a screeching halt it allowed us to really dive more deeply into the work with the Talent Accelerator than we might have been able to.”
“…the program was really changing, but we had the bones right from our work with the Talent Accelerator.”
Maureen O’Brien, Families First
Furthermore, we heard that the Talent Accelerator curriculum strengthened participants’ ability to understand and adapt to new needs and operating contexts. A number of participants noted undergoing organizational changes (whether related to the pandemic or not) and that the Talent Accelerator was helpful in both driving and guiding those shifts. Solstice, an organization that works to increase renewable energy and energy equity, recently pivoted from working with developers to subscribe low-income households to community solar to working directly with communities interested in owning their own energy generation assets. “It’s a pivot we’ve been talking about for a long time because we see a lot of equity benefits,” Avni Pravin, Solstice’s former Program Manager explained. “The Talent Accelerator helped us see why this would be such a valuable pivot, and gave us the language and tools to talk about it more effectively.”
Amid changes to the Parent Leadership Program at Families First, Maureen O’Brien, Director of Curriculum and Training, expressed that “The theory of change work we did really helped keep things moving along – the program was really changing, but we had the bones right from our work with the Talent Accelerator.”
Greater application of evidence across all aspects of an organization
Evidence is a powerful tool that can help build alignment across leadership, program, and evaluation staff around a shared evidence agenda. However, for many organizations, data collection and use is siloed or primarily focused on compliance rather than learning. The Talent Accelerator helps participants build data collection and use into all components of their work in a way that supports learning, improvement, and cross-team alignment.
For Parenting Journey, the Talent Accelerator has helped their team use evidence as a tool for regularly engaging their staff and board in a way that builds buy-in and promotes learning. “What we’re really trying to do is make sure that people see evaluation as accessible and welcoming…we don’t want this to only be a presentation of finalized work – we’re really trying to present work at early stages to stimulate engagement and involvement,” said Caroline Kistin, Parenting Journey’s Senior Director of Research and Evaluation. “We want folks to feel like evaluation is in service of the work they’re doing and not something siloed.”
“Historically we didn’t have that intentional evaluation lens, it was here and there…this is an intentional structure and lens that we’re now building into all of the work we’re doing.”
Molly Pistrang, REACH
YW Boston shared how they’ve taken principles from the Talent Accelerator and applied them to multiple programs across the organization, including building logic models and using visualizations and dashboards to make data more useful, accessible, and interactive. “Everyone is working so hard and so deep in very specific spaces, and there are places where they could have community,” said Sarah Faude, YW Boston’s Director of Research and Evaluation. “One thing the Talent Accelerator helped us do was think about how to set things up so that there can be more cross-program communication.”
One very tangible outcome of the Talent Accelerator for REACH was the decision to hire an evaluation and research intern – a new role for the organization. “The reason why this position exists is because of the work that we did with the Talent Accelerator and Project Evident,” said Molly Pistrang, REACH’s Youth Education Specialist. “Historically we didn’t have that intentional evaluation lens, it was here and there…this is an intentional structure and lens that we’re now building into all of the work we’re doing.”
More intentional incorporation of equity into evidence building and use
At the core of the Talent Accelerator is the belief that achieving equitable outcomes requires that principles of equity inform all aspects of an organization’s work, especially how they generate evidence and evaluate outcomes. This is not a single section of the Talent Accelerator curriculum but rather something that is incorporated throughout the program. Participants shared how the focus on equity has impacted their own work, in terms of how they collect and share data, make decisions, and ensure that stakeholders are empowered to actively engage in the process.
“We’re really thinking about not just how this is benefiting families, but how do we know and how are we bringing in the family perspective – and how do we center that not just in our programming but in our evaluation?”
Caroline Kistin, Parenting Journey
“Something that I took from the experience is that it’s not just the what – it’s the how,” Molly Pistrang shared. “That lens is really informing the work we’re doing. How are we doing this in a way that is intentional and equitable, and meeting people where they are, and that won’t cause harm or replicate uneven power structures?” For Rachel McCoy, Program Manager at YW Boston, data ethics has been a key takeaway. “Who has access to data? Who can use it? I’ve been more conscious of it. Across the board, it’s something that we think about and talk about more.”
Katie Wilson, Program Director at Parenting Journey, said that for her team, “It’s how the stakeholder voice – and all the different voices – are present. That has been on our mind any time we’re looking at new data. First we’ll start with staff and do some meaning making. Then we’ll think about how we share this with parents and get their perspective on it, and then how we share with our board and other external stakeholders.”
“We’re really thinking about not just how this is benefiting families, but how do we know and how are we bringing in the family perspective – and how do we center that not just in our programming but in our evaluation?” Caroline Kistin added. “So that has absolutely shaped the evaluation of our new remote delivery where it’s very much been focused on the parent point of view and taking a user-centered approach to quality improvement.”
During a difficult period of time, we’re proud of the work participating organizations put into the Talent Accelerator program, the ability of our staff to support them, and the community of like-minded practitioners the cohort resulted in. We’re also grateful to participating organizations for providing us with candid and insightful feedback about their experience. We’re strong believers in “eating our own cooking” at Project Evident – this means that, like our partners, we’re constantly working to inform and improve our programs.