Reflecting on the last 10 years to make more impactful decisions today
The Colorado Health Foundation takes a broader and deeper look than ever before
The Foundation team wanted to take a long and deep look back to educate their current strategic planning process. See how we wrangled such a complex undertaking and what a difference it’s making in their decisions today.
Introducing The Colorado Health Foundation
The Colorado Health Foundation is dedicated to ensuring that all Coloradans and their families have what need to live healthy lives. They engage closely with communities across the state through investing, policy advocacy, learning, and capacity building. In funding, they take a multifaceted approach to health by investing in nonprofits, communities, and public and private sectors that matter most to improving health and health equity. In 2017 alone, they distributed more than $80 million in grants and contributions.
What they did
Look back so they can make the biggest impact moving forward
Learning is already ingrained in the Foundation’s culture. Staff continuously pause to reflect on how things are going, and what they might need to adjust to do better work. However, this reflection had typically been focused on a specific activity.
For this project, the Foundation partnered with us to take a long look at the road traveled over the last decade, reflecting upon how their strategies evolved over time. We aimed to understand what happened and why.
The Foundation wanted to reflect upon what they’d done from a different point of view, and be able to ask, “What helped us make this effective?” or “Why was this less effective than we'd hoped?” Their goal was to be able to apply that learning to decisions moving forward, so they can have the greatest possible impact.
How we did it together
Embrace the complexity
Doing a 10-year retrospective of grantmaking, policy, communications, and overall influence in an entire funding area, and to do that over multiple funding areas, is a complicated undertaking. However, it is one that comes with huge rewards.
How we did it:
Curiosity and willingness to rethink and be flexible.
Together, we dove in and embraced the messy complexity of the task by continuing to evolve the evaluation approach for each subsequent funding area. We kept what was transferable in our approach, and reworked things as needed.
Compare evidence to the hypotheses.
We started by collaborating on a set of hypotheses – the impact the Foundation felt they had made over 10 years. Then, we did key informant interviews, document review, grant data secondary analysis, and sensemaking focus groups with program staff to compare what actually happened against those hypotheses.
Make sense of the findings
What good are 80 pages of data if they aren’t easy to understand? Together, we highlighted the value in the findings.
Conduct collaborative sensemaking sessions. Exploring and unpacking the preliminary findings together through engaging discussions led to a-ha moments and a deeper level of understanding for all.
A report that leads with answers, rather than overwhelming with data. Using a writing style that is clear and accessible to everyone, we put the answers to the key questions right up front. We focused on main takeaway messages, and visualized the data with charts and graphs.
Invaluable tools to help them effectively move forward
The Foundation team found two things to be especially important: the final report, and what they learned through the process to get there.
Trustworthy memory bank in black and white. No more worries about historical knowledge being lost in the minds of team members who move on. Now, anyone can look back and apply what has been learned in the past to future decisions without having lived it themselves.
Building skills and creating buy-in for the internal learning sessions. The Foundation team has always valued learning, but this experience reshaped what happens in these meetings and how they are perceived. This brought value in new thinking and ideas for all team members, instead of just the Foundation’s evaluators.
Be more effective today with learnings from the past
Reflecting upon what strategies were used and how they evolved over time has made a major impact on the strategic decisions being made today.
Confidence in how to approach the work today. Understanding how emergent and deliberate strategies have played out over the years gives great context to which strategic approach will likely work best in a situation today.
Identify trouble and course-correct earlier. It’s like a new superpower to quickly notice when things aren’t going in the right direction. Having the confidence to make changes sooner, rather than waiting to see how it plays out, holds just as much power.
Move more quickly and set proper expectations for the team. Having a record of what happened for each previous strategy allows them to more readily make a plan for a new situation. This includes what will work best for timing, feedback loops, and measurement of quality and implementation.
Clarity on what to fund for the greatest impact. Referencing the effectiveness of various solutions tried over the years gives the team greater confidence in what types of solutions might be effective to fund now.