For the past 18 months or so, jdcPartnerships has worked with CompassPoint NonProfit Services Staff and Board in developing, refining and applying their emerging Theory of Change (I can hear some of you groaning) to their work. A recent application of this framework was to NonProfit Day 2010. For purposes of reference, our model of a Theory of Change includes the following components: Issue(s) Addressed, Target Audience, Core Strategies, Values/Guiding Principles, Assumptions, Anticipated Change (Long Term) AND Research/Evidence.
Given discussions last year about “blowing up the conference model” by Teri Behrens, and Sean Stannard-Stockton ”more-ideas-for-blowing-up-the-conference-model” among others AND that spring conference season is now upon us, we thought it might be interesting to share a glimpse behind the scenes of designing a conference. Nelson Layag, Project Director graciously agreed to share his experience using a Theory of Change framework to the immensely popular and well attended NonProfit Day held annually in San Francisco. See NonProfit Day Session Materials and Selected Resources for information if you were unlucky enough not to have attended.
Q. So How Did We Do It?
A. When we began planning Nonprofit Day the full staff and Board were in the midst of developing our theory of change. CompassPoint’s theory of change focused us on what exactly we were working towards (in other words, to what end) and what ways we were most likely to make progress towards those outcomes. Thanks to Jara’s suggestion, we used a simple format for creating an overall framework for the conference which helped us use the theory of change as a foundation for the planning and execution of Nonprofit Day. This framework was our guiding document and helped shape theme, overall outcomes, speakers, and structure.
Q. What Was Different?
A. A big difference was balancing the tension between the specific outcomes we wanted to achieve AND those we could achievein a one day convening. We had great discussion on questions like “is it realistic to achieve this outcome?” and “what can/should we try to achieve in our one day convenings?”. We also worked with our speakers on developing specific learning outcomes for each session and evaluated to those specific outcomes. We asked attendees to hand in their evaluations after each session so our return was much higher than in the past. We gained some good insights such as what a panel discussion could or could not achieve. We also saw things like participants thinking the presenter was great, but rating lower when asked if learning outcomes had been met. (Read NonProfit Day 2010 Eavluation Findings, Lessons Learned and Implications for more detail.)
Another difference was how we intentionally lived particular parts of the values stated in our theory of change. For example, the value of humor was expressed in the large scale “mad libs” game and the speakers we chose were aligned with our values on social equity and multiculturalism.
Q. What Next?
A.Nonprofit Day 2011 of course (it’s on September 19 – so save the date), but infused with the learnings gained not just from last year’s Nonprofit Day but from all our major convenings held in the past year. Here’s three things that you’ll see from us this year:
- Better developed learning outcomes and evaluations (along with being more explicit about those outcomes to our participants)
- Get more specific what “networking” outcomes we want to achieve in this large scale event and then design to those outcomes
- Continue to use our Theory of Change as the guiding foundation