Understanding Impact – GA Serbia Notes

*Written by Vladica Jovanovic based on a talk by Marshall Ganz at the Global Affiliates Gathering in Serbia March 2015

Over the course of the 2015 GA (Global Affiliates) Gathering, although in different contexts and to various extents, all GA proclaimed financial sustainability as one of the pressing challenges in continuing their organizations’ work on training, coaching and organizing leadership and community  as the model for change. Sustainability issues were not looked at only from a financial perspective, but also from the perspective of the sustainability of the work we do. In order to be sustainable, we first need to know what kind of work we are doing, and for that what metrics will help us respond to these kind of questions. Now, we need to be careful of what we speak of, when we say we are measuring our work: It is important to distinguish measuring impact from measuring outcomes.

Professor Marshall Ganz took somewhat a different approach to this issue. For him, the real question seems to be how to organize ourselves to have sustained impact within the world, within our communities, and with the individuals with whom we work, including ourselves. This requires looking at what we mean by impact, with whom we want to have that impact, what resources we require to have it, and how we can sustain access to those resources.  To what extent do we depend on time and to what extent on money? Whose time do we depend on and whose money? Whom do we actually empower, whom do we serve, and to whom must we respond ?These choices then overlap with questions of constituency, governance, and mission.

The long list of questions can be started with a broad one – How can we evaluate impact?

Professor Marshall offers two perspectives as starting points. One way to look at this is in terms of Richard Hackman’s tripartite evaluation of organizational outcomes:

images1. Did we achieve the change in the world we set out to achieve? Did we pass the law, stop the abuse, launch the credit union, win the election, etc. etc. etc?

2. Did we stregthen our capacity as a constituency, community, organization, or team to work effectiely together? Did we learn better methods, do we collaborate better, etc?

3. Did we grow, learn, and develop as individuals, especially with respect to our leadership practice, number of trained leaders, depth of skill, etc?

Another way to look at this is in terms of Steven Lukes Three Faces of Power:

Lukes_big1. Did we solve the immediate problem? Did we solve the grievance?
Get the job back, stop the eviction, preserve the forest, send the criminal to jail?

2. Did we change conditions responsible for the problem? Did we pass a gun control law, get the rules for preservation changed, change the legal practice?

3. Did we restructure power in such a way that those whose voices could not be heard, can be, while those whose voice prevailed, are now constrained? Employers required to deal with newly organized trade unions? Citizens newly enfranchised organized in new parties? Corporations subject to new rules of governance, investment, and taxation.

There’s a lot of potential overlap between these two formulations, but they are not exactly the same and that’s okay. If we restructure power we are also likely to have been doing the 1, 2, and 3 or organizational effectiveness, but we could solve an immediate problem in such a way that we are also doing 1, 2, and 3 of organizational effectiveness.

Our challenge is to organize our work so as to achieve the impact we seek generating as much as we can of the resources that are needed from the constituency whom we want to empower. Otherwise we run the risk of doing lots of solving of immediate problems while leaving the structures responsible for those problems intact and, perhaps even strengthened by the legitimacy we led them through our own dependency upon them. If the primary goal is to empower our constituencies, along with that is the preservation of our own autonomy, except with respect to our own constituency. Finding multiple sources of funding, for example, can enable us to avoid dependency on any one of them. Finding allies with whom we may share an interest, even if only limited values, but that enable us to divide the opposition, can create space for the growth of our own capacity. Generating funds based on the work we actually perform as opposed to unearned largesse, grants, and gifts can enable us to avoid dependency on those whose interests are contrary to our own. Exploring sources of public funding or institutional funding (e.g. dues check-offs) for elements of our work can create political challenges, but also offer sources of greater autonomy. It’s not a black and white question, but one of being clear as to what the goal is, what the criteria are that we use in evaluating how we are doing, and working to do the best we can to shape the circumstances in which we operate.

When measuring impact, we can take into account the change it brings on individual, community and institutional level, which is grounded in questions asked by Richard Hackman. His social psychological work helped ground a lot of our concepts on interdependent teams, task design and coaching and whose work had a major impact through his understanding of research and its practical purpose.

On an individual level, we understand that learning and growing are both important. We can measure numbers of participants, coaches, training. But, what about the quality of the experience we are creating? What does being trained or participating in a training really means for the people going through it? When you focus on this kind of output, investing in people, it can pay off for a lifetime. If you have a training of 50 people, all you need is that one person to go out and do something in the world, because of your training. This is immensely impactful, but how do you measure it. Looking at people in Global Affiliates, there is an excellent example of this: Predrag from Serbia on the move was in the organizing distance learning class, so was Ana, and although Marshall doesn’t personally know what many of people who were in that class are doing now, he sees what Predrag and Ana are doing with SOM and it is fabulous.

Appreciating the way we think of this and how we grow people can be hard to measure: do we  measure the people who took responsibility for  something? Sometimes it can take years for things to develop, but it is important to value the moment of creating the possibility. The more people we train, the probability is bigger.

The bigger question is who do we train. We want to invest in the people who are starting out – there is a much longer return, there is strategic dimension of how probable the outcomes can be in terms of who I am investing in, what kind of constituency and where I’m investing in. How can we improve the probability odds?


images-2On a community level
, we can talk about the value created at the level of this community.  Leadership practices combine skill, concept, and values are embedded in it. The values one has are naturally embedded and can be seen in the way one approaches relationship building, strategizing – it is the way of doing things, as opposed to the way of talking of things. In our work, the Global Affiliates are not only teaching the skill of working the model, but the way of doing the work – attention to details, understanding their relevance for different points within campaign, they are not reflected in the practices but in the habit of work. The center of our work are people, as an alternative to the dominant ways of getting things done – allowing the market/bureaucracy to do the regulation.

At the community level, we look at the ability of the team to work collaboratively, creating community culture in the sense of accountability, willingness to commit their free time. We have teams that are changeable, do we and how do we measure that – the influx and people leaving. There is also the question of size and number of teams, number of people activated. That can be acollective outcome. In the question of capacity, that goes in two tiers. Distinguishing between our own, internal and the capacity of others – your training community is the capacity you don’t have as individuals but as a group; and then on the other hand there is the capacity of external communities as result of things you do – the wider circles you are building, there are link being made, people connected in networks, which is being created through the work that you do.

Besides the culture of working together, there is the knowledge aspect, broadening the knowledge and a deeper understanding of the values we think we share. It may be what Paolo Friere called concientizacion: bringing people to the greater self awareness – of who they are and where they are at in social and political sense. It is creating the possibility for someone to do something in the world, but doing all the pre-work as well, helping their personal understanding of themselves in the world.

Sustainability of community – ability to pass it on – is another criteria to measure impact. If you grow a team that can continue after a certain number of people who started something move on in their lives and careers, you have created sustainable community. Ulaz Slobodan (Free Entrance) seminar in SOM – at some point Peđa and Momir needed to go on to doing other things, but the seminar bears a value for the organization and community and they passed it on, and now the seminar has its sixth generation of trainers. Being regenerative in our work needs to be part of our strategy. There is a question of framing how to tackle this particular question. We cannot be sure of the ripples, but taking them into account so there is more rippling, is a difficult designing question in our work.

On the third level, are we really making  change in the world?

Are we bringing about greater justice? We think of campaigns and do we win them or lose them, but sometimes we win a campaign, but we don’t get the results in, sometimes we lose the campaign but it becomes a foundation for something bigger. The three faces of power can then be used to look at the impact at the institutional level:

  1. Grievance
  2. Conditions
  3. Structure

If we talk about the Montgomery Bus Boycott – buses desegregated was the immediate issue or grievance, but the next tier was the segregation, and on a structural level there was the shift in power, that occurred in a community that resolved. The community that was powerless became powerful and that opened a whole new level of change and capacity. The distinction that is important to be made here with the campaign is that if they had done it through a lawsuit, that fight probably would not have led to the shift in power and change in the structure, because it did not reach all the people through the campaign. Using the fight to empower the community – reaching out and engaging, becoming a powerful voice means operating on that third level – structural. It challenges us in the question of shifting power, not momentarily only, but looking at the future. Often, there is a question of existing dominant narrative and how you deal with it. United We Dream faces this individual dominant discourse, cultural discourse in its campaigns, what kind of a role does that play? In their case it is not the dreamers, but their parents, how does one take the dominant discourse?

It comes down to the question of how do we understand structure: at the very least it has a political dimension (how is power distributed), and economic dimension (how is wealth distributed) and a cultural dimension (how is status, esteem, honor distributed). These ‘structures” are made real through the institutions that draw power from them, enhance them, and defend them: economic institutions (banks, enterprises, markets, inheritance laws, etc.), political institutions (government, parties, the military, the police, state agencies, electoral processes, courts), and cultural institutions (churches, media, schools, athletic teams, monuments, holidays, etc) whole discourse thing is in that domain, it is very real and that is where the narrative can play an important role in changing that.

How does one track and see shift in the value system – how to capture that change? How do you see that change in the stories and get that point across away from the numbers. How do you actually know you are actually doing that? When “the dreamers” (United We Dream) started telling their own story, how they are marginalized and how that stands as ground for power, it was a real story and leveraging that for political power because it had real people and challenges attached to it, how do you actually see that? The change can be seen over time – looking at the personal stories in the students with disability campaign that Ahel was engaged in – you can see it  in the change in self-perception – how they see themselves. There was a notable shift from being grateful for being carried across the stairs in wheelchairs to wanting to do it themselves, cause it is their right – feeling entitled on this issue – shifting the self narrative and narrative of that community.

The narrative can become structural. We need to be very strategic in the stories we are telling. It’s a strategy how to approach to the narrative so to use in the shifting of the power. How do you know when you’ve reached the threshold. Strategy narrative. It’s in the values, but also in beliefs of how things work. It can be seen in the celebratory activity –  we are claiming this identity and our new position – in this new way, it can mark the shift taking place. Another way to monitor the change in narrative is to monitor media and coverage of the stories. We should also be prepared to face that stories are reporting correctly the events taking place, but they don’t record the shift in the values. And we need to make the narrative so to address that, as the tactics in the campaign. Professor Marshall gave a good example of that – in the Senate Election in California –their campaign produced the winning votes, Black and Latino votes and there was going to be a press conference to announce the victory and they knew that what is said there, which depended on who was there to say it,  will be the news of what brought the victory. So professor Marshall made it his business to be there at that press conference and to show the numbers that they turned out in our GOTV campaign. It is something to be very strategic about – the story that we want to tell.

Narrative is important but the cultural level cannot be the only one campaigns operate on. The danger is that people sometimes focus so much on this that they forget economics and politics and it becomes discourse wars and that’s not it. It needs to be grounded in all dimensions to reach the structural change. United we dream is now actively  trying to change the discourse to other dimension from the cultural one. All three dimensions are equally important, maybe there is even a fourth one – a social one.

But, how do the three dimensions connect to measure the impact on the institutional level?

Outside of the theoretical level, how do you do it on ground? In the 6 Minutes campaign Ahel was coaching, the initial problem was that people weren’t reading so they established 6minutes of reading. When we came to the actual change, it was difficult to know what was being read and how many people were reading, but at some point it turned out that the household was the place where the shift of the power happened. Since many people were not educated, women we engaged in the campaign now had this resource that enabled them to have the power within their homes. It goes to their stories and them launching another campaign – but it remains unclear does this reach the structural level, or stays on the community level.

On a national level, we can look at the campaign with the Palestinians. Approximatelly 1,5 millions are Palestinians out of 7million living in Israel. Their schools don’t get the same funding, their cities as well, they don’t serve the army so they are not eligible for scholarships or university housing advantage. We could work with individuals to get them scholarships, but what is really needed is to change the structural conditions so that the Palestinians cities were included in the same funding scheme as Israeli towns. On a structural level, we could see the change in the latest Israeli elections – the new structure of cities and voting schemes allowed them to become the third party by power. Elections are often the possibility for this kind of change.

Sometimes these small groups, informal groups you work with, can jumpstart a campaign that will lead to structural change. How do you measure that jumpstart of action, these groups can then disappear but the change already took place. It adds up to the explanation of the episodic character of the social change – moments of opportunity in social change, you either use them or not. The rhythm of continuity and sustainability is across the impact argument.

What other things can we monitor to know that the structural change happened? How can we claim these things as our contribution? You get to the press conference and you claim it. You need to be comfortable with the change you did. If you have the relationship with the campaign and leaders, you need to be modest – you let them say for you that you contributed to that change. We solved these grievances, we changed this law. Stories can be pointed at, laws and institutions as well. You can also measure what people were saying before the campaign and what is the discourse afterwards. If you have the indicators you start with, you can go back to them at the end and see that change.

You need to be smart about how to make visible what you are doing. There is a difference between inventing things for the press and being smart about enabling the press to see what you are doing. Gandhi was very smart about this. Caesar Chavez never did press conferences, if the press wanted to talk to him, they needed to meet him on a picket line, join him on the march, etc. In that way, the press can become your allies. You respect them, don’t try to manipulate them. You offer them real stories, they often will tell your story, because its real. It has become more and more often that marketing, PR, digital, are consuming a lot of our resources and affect our planning in the campaign.

It is important to recognize that movement building is different from marketing in that its mission is fundamentally transformational, not transactional, and it is grounded in relationship building not exchange The language of marketing defines people as customers, forms of engagement as products, organizational identities as brands, and success in terms of sales. Organizing defines people as constituents, forms of engagement as relational, organizational identities as narratives, and success as impact, as change.

Read the Executive Summary of the  Global Affiliates Gathering in Serbia March 2015 

Read the Agenda of the Global Affiliates Gathering 

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