My father has spent a career exploring what makes managers effective. The quote of his that rings in my ears is, “Without a goal, you can’t plan. Without a plan, you can’t manage.” And, in my 20 years of for-profit and non-profit work experience, management and measurement go hand in hand. The question for me from the Las Vegas Community Conference isn’t “to measure or not to measure?” The question is, “What to measure?” By all means they need to measure, and the starting point is their goals. After informing themselves on the many challenges faced by their rapidly growing city, Community Conference members seemed to identify one goal as the first among many priorities, and that is to build the sense of community that will allow the community to understand itself, to care for itself, to make tradeoffs for itself. The assumption underlying their goal setting is that shared values and commitment to sense of community is the sine qua non without which all of the other problems cannot be solved, no matter how much money or time everyone invests.
In that light, their management need is to measure sense of community and strength of community. Happily, there are many proxies for community capital – levels of citizen participation in elections, in neighborhood gatherings, in school events, in sports leagues, and more; surveys of how many neighbors people report knowing; surveys of attitudes about community; charitable giving for community related organizations; and the list goes on. I’m sure there are items that would be most relevant to Las Vegas, and the Community Conference can define those things.
In addition, as it makes funding decisions that prioritize community building, the conference can engage their funding partners in identifying their own measures of success – not in how many symphonies performed, or even in how many families are housed, but in how many people gathered before or after the symphony to mingle and how many neighbors lent a hand to the family in need.
There is one trick, however. As in any community venture, the prime goal is rarely the only goal. And, secondary goals are sometimes easier to measure. So the trick is to keep the focus on the prime goal, while still counting and reporting and examining the consequences of other outcomes – families sheltered, children nurtured, symphonies performed – without losing the focus on the prime goal: building community.
Nancy E. Wilson, guest blogger, is director and associate dean of the University College of Citizenship and Public Service, Tufts University.