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The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Leadership Learning Community are hosting a meeting of leadership funders, evaluators and researchers to explore how to better inform our decisions about leadership development investments by utilizing evidence about what has worked to achieve community and systems level results on October 14-15, 2010.

The Leadership Learning Community (LLC) has been doing research for the AECF on the potential application of an Evidence Based Practice approach to leadership development work. Please feel free to download the preliminary report. At this meeting we will bring together leadership funders and evaluators to respond to preliminary findings and questions raised by this research, such as:
  • Are current leadership evaluation approaches producing evidence that can inform leadership investments and strategies to scale what works?
  • Can we aggregate findings across different contexts and experiences to create a useful evidence base for leadership work?
  • Are there a set of hypotheses we could formulate and test independently or collectively about how to achieve community/system/population level results through our leadership work?
An agenda for the meeting is available here.
For resources on evidence-based practice and leadership development, click here.
For a list of hypotheses about leadership development and changes at the community, field, systems, and population levels, click here.

Evidence-Based Practice and Leadership Development

The Use of Evidence-Based Practice in the Field of Leadership Development

By Claire Reinelt

Evidence-based practice (EBP) is commonly used to inform practice decisions in the fields of medicine, nursing, social work, child welfare, and criminal justice.
These fields have established standards of practice that guide decision-making about what treatments and protocols to use with individual patients, clients, and offenders to ensure the highest possible accountability for producing good results.
How is evidence-based practice being used in the field of leadership development? This is a question we set out to answer in a current research project for a leadership funder.
  • Were there leadership theories that conceived leadership as a relational, collective process?
  • Were there hypotheses being formed and tested in practice?
  • Was there evidence about the leadership process and practice needed to produce large scale change and population level results?
  • What research and evaluation approaches are appropriate for assessing a developmental, open system, like leadership development?
We learned a lot from doing this scan. A few insights include:
  • Achieving large-scale results (systems change, field impact, population level results, and community well-being) depends on building leadership relationships across sectors, communities, institutions, and social and economic divides (e.g., race, class, gender).
  • Focusing on getting desired results provides critical meaning and context for leadership in networks and communities of learning and practice to work in alignment.
  • Analyzing problems, identifying leverage points, taking action, and learning in real-time create a continual cycle of leadership learning and action that produces results in complex environments.
Our research led us to imagine some interesting possibilities for those of us in the leadership development field. What if we as a community of practice were to:
  • Develop research and evaluation frameworks that could guide the collection and organization of different kinds of evidence we are producing about how to achieve different purposes (e.g., the investment framwork)
  • Organize an EBP repository on our site or some other logical location to share evidence-based practices in an easy and accessible way for practitioners
  • Encourage investments in more practice-based research and provide training to practitioners on evidence-based appraoches
  • Facilitate collaboration between scholars and practitioners to identify and test hypotheses
  • Design and promote reward systems that produce accountability for results
How are you using evidence-based practice in your leadership work?

Results: The “for what?” of Leadership

By Deborah Meehan

What if we are capable of more, but our low expectations or limiting models of leadership hold us back? Over the past couple of years we have used an Investment Framework tool to understand the types of results or changes that leadership programs hope to achieve. We recently asked a group of funders to identify the results they were targeting (e.g. more financially sustainable organizations, an increased level of personal confidence) and place them in the matrix. Most of their answers fall under the following categories: individual and organization levels – the upper left hand corner of the matrix:
This tool was first developed by GEO and later adapted by Claire Reinelt, LLC Director of Research and Evaluation, and Grady McGonagill, McGonagill Associates. You can learn more about how to use this tool here.
The thinking is that working with individuals and organizations will ultimately result in changes in a given community. But, what could happen if we focus more of our work on the right hand side of the matrix?
We have been excited to see more and more leadership theory research that attempts to fill that gap. These newer theories focus on understanding leadership as a collective process that produces results at the systems, community and field levels. Many of these theories propose that collective action needs to focus on results. Here are some of these theories and examples of types of results being targeted by leadership programs that are using them:
  • Theory of Aligned Contributions (Pillsbury 2009): Leaders are more likely to achieve changes at the population level if they involve people from different sectors and take aligned actions to accomplish measurable results. The result needs to be urgent, measurable, and clear. The group must be willing to be publicly accountable for the result. For example, the Annie E. Casey Leadership in Action Program targeted (and achieved) a population level result – an increase in the number of children entering school prepared to learn in the city of Baltimore, MD.
  • The Collaborative Leadership Theory by David Chrislip and Carl Larson: A diverse group of people can solve pressing problems if the individuals in the group have appropriate information and are brought together in constructive ways. According to this theory, collaboration is defined as a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties who work toward common goals by sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results. The Kansas Health Foundation is using this theory to change civic culture at the community level.
  • The Theory U developed by Otto Scharmer: We need a more collective leadership model to creatively solve problems. This model suggests that we should observe the present with a new openness, sense the future and actively learn by prototyping. Results are based on the ability to adapt prototypes to create breakthrough changes on significant social problems like: sustainable food systems in Brazil or HIV/AIDs in Washington DC.
These examples raise some interesting questions about results:
  • Are we only targeting results that we know we can measure?
  • Do our current methods of measuring results keep us from targeting larger scale results that we do not know how to assess? How might this limit our potential impact?
  • What kinds of evaluation approaches can help us to measure different kinds of changes in communities, systems and fields of practice?
At LLC, we decided to ask each member of the team to write down the two most important results we hope to achieve and place them in the matrix. Thankfully, there was a strong alignment among the results, (whew):
  • System Level Result: To give voice to a more inclusive, networked and collective leadership mindset. To provide concrete tools and research to help leadership practitioners adopt this new mindset.
  • Field/Sector Level Result: To model and promote new ways of learning, connecting, and collaborating to achieve greater impact in the social sector.
In an upcoming article we will discuss LLC’s ideas for evaluating our results. We will also share what we are learning about how others are assessing their success at the community level. Please share your stories with us.

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