The Short Answer
1. Always go back to results, common ground end conditions of well-being that people care about. When people are clear about the ends, it clarifies the conflicts about means. There is not one right answer. Everyone can contribute.
2. Return to the simple questions that drive this work: What do we want (in plain language)? How would we recognized it in measurable terms? How are we doing on those measures? Who are the partners who have a role to play in doing better? What works to do better? What do we propose to actually do?
(1) Always go back to results, common ground. If you get off tract, and there are countless ways to do this, take people back to their common ground, a commitment to the results for children and families. When people are clear about the ends, it clarifies the conflicts about means. This is not about the one and only right strategy, program, etc. It=s about how these can contribute to the results…
(2) Imagine a place where we had a good report card on children and families. The report card showed the results we want for children and families and set out indicators that gave us a good picture of whether we were getting these results or not. Now what would we do if we wanted to make the numbers better? What would we do if we wanted to make just one number better? This is the idea behind Results-Based Accountability. What would we do? What would each of us do differently in our individual jobs? What would we do differently collectively.
(3) In effect, Results-Based Accountability is a way of “calling the question” on our rhetoric about children and families. It says, “OK, you want all children to be safe and healthy. How could we tell if children were safe and healthy in (objective) measurable terms? How are we doing on those measures? What would it take to do better?” These questions are more than they seem. They require that we pursue making a difference that actually shows up at the population level. This means that we can not fool ourselves by taking a collection of actions that sound good and hoping for the best.
Results-Based Accountability means that we have set out to make a change, not by chance, but by choice. And the deliberate nature of this work is different. And it requires a different way of thinking about and organizing the work. We must make the best choices possible for indicators. We must strive to get better indicators over time. We must recognize that baselines are the only real business like way to measure change for the better or worse. We must work to understand why the baselines look the way they do, so that we can target our efforts most effectively. We must bring in many partners, public and private, parents and youth, to contribute their wisdom and where possible their resources.
We must struggle to find the things that actually work to make change at the population level. This means we must search for things that have worked in other places and search deep in ourselves and our community for things we think will work here. We must not accept the easy or politically correct answers, but test everything by whether it will make a difference here. And we must get started on action. We must take those steps that can be take easily and inexpensively first, and gather resources to take the harder and more expensive actions as soon as we can. We must track our progress and be honest with ourselves about whether we are in fact making a difference. We must make changes and improvements to our plan over time. And if we do all this well, we must celebrate and share credit. And then get back to doing more…
(4) In essence, Results-Based Accountability asks us to answer the question: “What if we were really serious about this? (children safe, healthy ready for school etc.) What if this wasn’t just rhetoric. What if this were a life or death matter that required us to pull out all the stops, and do whatever was necessary. What if lives hung in the balance and time was of the essence? What would we do differently? What would I do differently?
This way of thinking may help explain the ideas, may help motivate people, may help keep the work simple enough to be successful.