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Welcome to the MW HealthBeat! This blog is intended to start a community dialogue where ideas and viewpoints about all things health in MetroWest can be shared. The blog will be written primarily by foundation staff, with occasional guest bloggers weighing in from time to time. We plan to use the blog to start new conversations about health, health care and philanthropy. We’d love to hear from you so please stop by often, leave a comment or two and let us know what you think.
Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 10/30/2013
A standard mantra among social workers is that you need to meet your clients where they are or, in other words, figure out how to approach the problem on their terms. If that’s the case, then
Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 11/8/2012
After overseeing the Foundation’s MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey for six years, I finally had the chance to experience it as a parent. My two middle-school children are among 39,000 MetroWest middle and high school students who are taking
Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 10/9/2012
Whose responsibility is it to make sure nonprofits assess their programs?
Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 6/26/2012
Shortly after I started at the Foundation in 2004, we launched a Health Leadership Program as part of our work to strengthen local health organizations by supporting their top managers. Over the years, I too have benefited from sitting alongside my colleagues and learning about what it takes to be an effective leader. Here are three important lessons I learned:
Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 5/4/2012
In its recently released report, “Building Capacity to Measure and Manage Performance,” The Bridgespan Group notes that nonprofits do not appear to be investing in their own ability to measure their impact. They cite a study from the Innovation Network, a nonprofit evaluation firm in Washington, D.C., that found only
Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 1/13/2012
Our grant reviewers really get it.

By “get it” I mean they recognize a grant applicant that has done all the things we’ve asked – provided relevant data, a sound program design, justified budget, measurable outcomes and a solid sustainability plan.

Recently, I participated in my 16th grant review cycle here at the foundation. The process is generally the same, although a few things have changed over the years. We now use an online application, we award more proactive grants, staff now makes an official funding recommendation to the reviewers and thankfully, our chair tries to end the meetings by 9pm.

We can hope that the reviewers – volunteers in charge of rating the grants – give the green light to the applications we think are worthy of funding, but in reality we have little sway in the decision-making. We can only make recommendations and then cross our fingers.

But sometimes, sometimes, we can convince them. Sometimes we can provide additional information or a different way of thinking about an issue. For instance, in the latest fall round we received an application from a local human service agency for a critical health need.

It was a little bit of an outside the box request, and the reviewers were somewhat leery. Their scores were on the lower end and the initially there were some concerns. But through a spirited discussion, they were convinced that a small amount of money would address a significant, short-term health gap and make a huge difference.

Other times, they convince us that grants that we were cheerleading should not be funded by making sound, factual arguments against the applicant. Both outcomes are equally valuable.

It can be hard for grantees to hear the reasons they were declined. And it can be hard for staff to have to tell a grantee they weren’t funded, but it is reassuring to know the process is a good one.

Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 10/24/2011
How can you get grantees to provide better outcome data? Teach them!

That was the essentially the impetus for the Foundation’s Evaluation Institute launched this fall. The goal in establishing the institute was to train grantees how to collect, analyze and share data so that they can better measure their own performance, and we can understand the impact of our grantmaking.

We invited area health agencies to nominate managers who, by the end of the four-month program, will know what a good evaluation process looks like and how to implement change within their organizations.

So what have they learned so far?

This month Anita Baker, our expert trainer who has designed similar evaluation training programs for the Hartford Foundation and the Bruner Foundation, talked to participants about how to create a survey that will yield useful data. It’s not as easy as you might think.

Baker said even she’s not overly fond of answering surveys even though she writes them for a living. Writing surveys is hard, she said. The key is creating questions and answer categories that make sense to those you want to respond.

It also doesn’t hurt to entice your respondents with candy, as Baker did when she asked our own participants to answer survey questions by voting with a pack of Starburst.

There are a variety of ways to collect and use data, said Baker, who encouraged participants to use data to make decisions, solve problems, as well as study attitudes and perceptions.

Over the next two months, participants will learn everything they need to know about designing evaluations, choosing the right evaluation tools and communicating results to stakeholders. They will also have the opportunity to receive coaching on actual evaluations created during the institute.

We’ll update you on lessons learned from the institute and whether our participants develop a sweet tooth.

Posted by: Rebecca Donham on 9/6/2011
Mention the words “group project” to anyone and you’re likely to hear a groan.

That’s because we often have bad memories of school assignments gone terribly awry, with a few diligent members completing the bulk of the work and everyone else conveniently disappearing. But research tells us that hands-on learning and teamwork are great ways to apply what we’ve learned, especially in the complex world of health care.

That’s why each year, as part of the Foundation’s Health Leadership Program, the leaders split into two groups and work on a project – the development of an issue brief that addresses a community health problem. Leaders are asked to devise a strategic solution that incorporates what they have learned in the program over the course of six months.

Last month the class of 2011 presented their two issue briefs to the Foundation’s board. They chose two growing problems -- adolescents returning to school following a mental health crisis and elder substance abuse.

The keys to addressing both issues were, not surprisingly, education and collaboration. In the case of adolescents who have experienced a behavioral health crisis, cooperation among schools, parents, mental health providers, and hospitals is pivotal to providing a less stressful return. In addition, the health leaders said schools need to embrace the importance of developing and implementing comprehensive re-entry plans. Then they must consistently use those plans in order to ease the transition back into the classroom.

The group that studied the problem of elder substance abuse found that educating older adults and their caregivers about the signs and risks of substance abuse was a necessary first step in a multi-pronged approach. This includes encouraging health care providers to use evidence-based screening tools. A major component of ensuring that older adults have access to affordable treatment is increased Medicare funding.

The ten leaders scored high marks with the Foundation’s trustees who urged Foundation staff to share the recommendations and incorporate them into their work in the community. In the past, leaders’ projects have helped inform the Foundation’s decisions on what initiatives to undertake.

While working together was not always easy given the leaders’ schedules, they agreed it was an extremely useful component of the program.

“It was a great opportunity to learn more about another issue I don’t work directly on. And it was also great to learn more about some of the individuals participating in the program,” wrote one leader.

All in all, I’d call that a far cry from a groan.