Good Intentions, Not So Good Results: When Strategies and Aspirations Collide

Guest Post \
October 21, 2016

Let’s all pause for a moment of honesty: You complete a grant proposal with high hopes and aspirations that what you intend to do will actually produce the results you desire. Then, reality sinks in and the results don’t match up to your aspirations. The truth is, sometimes strategies just don’t work out.

Summit Education Initiative (SEI) is no stranger to strategy development. To help “move the needle” at critical transition points on the Cradle to Career continuum, we pilot promising strategies based on data and then analyze the results.

With assistance from our strategy team members, SEI uses data to identify an area to address. Then, we invite willing collaborators from schools and out of school time partners to help us design, implement and measure the effectiveness of our strategy. If the project yields a promising outcome, we refine the strategy and execute it again with a broad, more diverse group of collaborators, measuring results and working to validate the strategy. When this happens, SEI builds processes to embed the strategy across the county.

What happens when a strategy doesn’t yield the kind of positive results anticipated? We toss it on the pile of “good intentions-not so good results.”

This very thing has happened at SEI several times over the last few years. When the data don’t support the effort, we simply stop.

Our e-mentoring program is a prime example of this. The e-mentoring program shared the goal of face-to-face mentoring by matching young people and adults to establish trust and nurture a positive relationship, while taking advantage of the ease, convenience and availability of the Internet. We designed and implemented a small “clinical trial” in year one, with small but positive results. The results were strong enough for us to invest another year’s worth of research, design, retooling and implementation. After that second year, the results were not strong enough to continue.

Although the strategy “felt” good for the adults who volunteered, the impact on the students was not equivalent to the effort.

In the meantime, iCARE Mentoring was burgeoning within Akron Public Schools and it made less sense to continue pushing a strategy which consumed similar resources for very minimal return. Instead, it made more sense for SEI to get behind iCARE Mentoring and support their growth.

Does this make SEI nervous about “wasting” precious donated funds? Sure it does. But we think it’s more costly to pursue a weak performing strategy in the hope of not losing face.

Let’s just name it, own it and move on.

Derran Wimer is executive director of Summit Education Initiative.
Header image via Maarten van den Heuvel