In our pursuit of social change, we often get caught up in all sorts of fancy phrases and jargon: logic model, theory of change, capacity building — and at Root Cause we admittedly have our own, such as social impact market. But what about the actual results of all of our work and the people whose lives we are committed to helping improve? Funders and programs have gotten so focused on the jargon that we have lost sight of the simplicity of understanding "to what end"!
The outcomes we, as people working for social change, are all aiming for should be simple. They should clearly lay out what opportunity looks like for an individual in the United States from birth throughout life. Rather than getting confused by terminology, we need to have a straightforward set of outcomes that we, at the city, state, and national level, track to assess how we are faring - a process similar to tracking the unemployment rate.
To this end, Root Cause and PolicyLink, on behalf of the Institute for Black Male Achievement (IBMA), were proud to unveil The Black Male Achievement Life Outcomes Dashboard this past summer. The Dashboard is a set of 16 indicators that track opportunity for black males in the United States, in the areas of education, safety, health, work, and family.
The Life Outcomes Dashboard is actually relevant for all populations as it track opportunity and puts a stake in the ground, helping us get specific about what we are trying to improve. These outcomes could be monitored in the public, not unlike unemployment rates, because they matter. For example, the Dashboard displays nationwide data on 8th grade reading proficiency levels. The numbers clearly show a gap in reading proficiency: 12 percent of black male students, compared to 31 percent of all male students, are at or above proficiency levels in reading.
Once we have access to and are monitoring the relevant data, we need to get focused on the best practices that will drive improvement of these specific outcomes. For example, what are the best practices for improving reading proficiency levels? Organizations and programs working with students and their families should be relentlessly considering whether they are implementing the evidenced based best practices that will most likely improve reading proficiency.
My call to action-for any of us who are doing work aimed at improving the lives of others-is for us to ask ourselves, and keep asking ourselves, these two questions:
- What specific life outcome or outcomes are you focused on improving?
- What evidence base exists for the practices you are implementing to improve these outcomes?
With a common resource like the Dashboard, all of us can get on the same page and be much more rigorous about assessing whether our practices are moving us toward the specific outcome or outcomes we have chosen to focus on.