The October 2018 blog post “Connecting the Dots from the Report Part 3: Driving Change, Managing Lanes” outlines the importance of identifying roles – or “lanes” – for organizations to operate within to support each other as well as to realize a shared, strategic vision to end and prevent homelessness. It discusses the need for agencies to complement rather than compete for funding and resources. A Child’s Place applied this thinking to our organization. This blog post is a reflection on what we discovered, and what we plan to do next.
The limits of using a funding lens
When organizations view the world through a funding lens, we automatically see opportunities in silos; therefore, we limit our ability to maximize these potential opportunities for ourselves and others. We are wired to compete with each other for resources. For example, when a new grant becomes available we strive to position our organization in the best light possible. When an organization narrows its focus in this way, we forget to look at similarities with other groups, how we complement each other and how funding could be maximized if we approached a grant collaboratively.
A limited lens results in limited data
When we operate from a funding lens, we orient our data culture toward what is required by funders. We may feel pressured to identify the outcomes that will best secure funding. As a result, we then become less mission-focused and more funder-driven. We also narrow our scope to those outcomes most relevant to our organization without looking at the larger system. What if we started at the system level, and all organizations collaborated to identify system-level outcomes? What if we worked with funders to align their funding toward the same system-level outcomes? Such an orientation would allow us to see others as partners. That orientation would create a data culture that supports not only each agency, but the community as a whole, all while demonstrating to funders that we maximize our resources.
Using data to create systems change
As a community, we share a vision that all individuals and families impacted by homelessness should secure a permanent home. To be a vehicle for change in the community requires an understanding of your organization’s role within the system, like a swim lane in a pool. Each organization has strengths, and we all have something unique to bring to the table. Where we inevitably overlap, we can find ways to streamline and to also amplify our services and impact. Where there are gaps, we can identify, together, who is best positioned to fill them. This cultivates mutually beneficial partnerships.
An important first step to create system change is for agencies to foster data cultures that attend to their agency as well as the larger system.
Driving change through data culture is both incredibly important and absolutely possible. A Child’s Place has begun this work; along the way we have learned so much that we are using to better inform our processes. We also took our learnings and co-authored an article, which was published in the Journal of Child and Poverty with Dr. Andrew Reynolds.
The article describes the challenges around data usage in the fields of child and family homelessness; recent advancements in the use of data; and strategies to create an organizational data culture. We continue to grow and improve from the work we are doing, and we hope you might find it a useful resource, too.
Delana Murdock is the Grants and Data Associate of A Child’s Place, a Charlotte area non-profit dedicated to erasing the impact of homelessness on children and their education. Her current work is in preparing grant applications and reports, and supporting efforts to evaluate the impact of family homelessness through data collection and analysis. The Executive Director of A Child’s Place is Shantiqua D. Neely, a passionate and driven leader among the many change agents throughout Charlotte Mecklenburg’s non-profit and community organizations.