Organizations may be tasked to complete investigatory/applied research to meet specific needs, e.g. to create a white paper or complete a literature review, or to analyze agency/community data or external data related to agency decision making. Likewise, developing new programs, establishing an evidence-base, investigating new markets, or developing and securing an intellectual content/property base for your organization or other entity often requires skills and time that are unavailable.
The CSI team provides original applied research and development of intellectual property through best practices of research design, data collection, data analysis, and reporting. We also help businesses through market research, often with the assistance of one or both of our key partners (see Our Partners for specifics). Whatever the size and complexity, CSI can provide professional research and development services. All CSI projects are provided with development of client capacity and system improvement, whether organizational, community or both, in mind. Research, like evaluation, should be rooted in a proper understanding of context and be a direct conduit to improvement. Capacity development and attention to context often requires the use of mixed method designs (using numeric and narrative data), in which the CSI team is fully trained and comfortable. The following is a sample of research specifics the CSI team offers:
- Assisting partners or established research teams with research as contracted
- Establishing a collaborative research agenda and research plan for single research projects or the establishment of a ‘research stream’
- Setting research goals and objectives
- Collaborating with partners as needed including accessing additional research professionals for specific purposes
- Designing the research project with the best/most practical design for the project, e.g. experimental or quasi-experimental, mixed method, participatory, qualitative or other designs
- Protecting against bias to the degree possible
- Ensuring validity and reliability of the research design to the degree possible
- Application of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods
- Selection of normed or established tools
- Development and validating of project specific tools
- Professional data collection with established timeframes and fidelity to planned methods
- Quantitative and qualitative analysis using state-of-the-art analytic software packages, e.g. SPSS and Atlas.Ti
- Professional report writing and summary of results using appropriate graphics and narrative
- Secondary data analysis as needed by clients, including establishing an analysis plan with timeframes and reporting results via presentations and reports
Evaluation has been successfully implemented in organizations in need of tracking and proving their performance via an assets/inputs TO activities TO outputs TO outcomes/impact model, and logic models that captures this information. This model is productive and helpful for tracking mild to moderately complex programs and is at the root of formative and summative evaluation science. This is a “tried and true” model and if this is what you need, or you need to have your organization improve its capacity to embed and implement this model, we can help you. Indeed, much of our evaluation assistance includes this model because it is tried and true. This is a wheel that does not need to be reinvented.
WHAT IF? What if you need to know more than that? What if your organization or project faces an ever-changing and often unpredictable environment? What if the system and context in which you are operating is unclear and even at times frightening? What if you cannot afford to freeze time and innovation in order to test a program in a summative evaluation because the system is fluid and not static? What if adaptation is the norm and not the exception? What if you are spending too much time worrying about the future and sustainability of your organization?
WHAT IF?… takes a different skill set. Ours… and this is how.
All members of our team have experience and training in taking a systems perspective, focusing a systems lens, at any level of a system, from the individual to the community and beyond. We evaluate based on systems and developmental perspectives. This produces much richer and actionable information that clients will use to improve their ability for assessment, planning, program implementation, evaluation of effectiveness and efficiency, marketing and branding, and placing themselves strategically in the larger system. Ultimately, with some additional support described under the Systems Change & Complexity Based Organizational Support section, becoming a systems-change agent.
First and foremost, a systems-based approach is not a content area that can be learned through reading a text or two. It is an action and participatory approach that requires training and experience. Leaders and managers often want one perspective, the best one, but accept any one that allows them to do something (sometimes anything). In using a systems approach, leaders and managers are assisted in committing to multiple perspectives, helped to understand the many relationships (system inputs and outputs) already in place or needed, and to fine tune their mindfulness of boundaries. Through this process the best perspective(s) are selected and implemented. CSI supports program, organizational or community improvement through helping to collect system information, interpreting it, building the capacity for maintaining a system focus, and embedding this perspective to maximize client effectiveness and efficiency. How do we do this? There are many tools in our systems-based evaluator’s toolkit, and here are just a few…
- Social Network Analysis (SNA): are multiple techniques for analyzing social systems, networks, participants, and partnerships. Clients are assisted in visualizing, analyzing, and understanding network information that allows them to see their position in a network. From there, clients can leverage, change or enhance their position through collaboration, development of additional social capital, product marketing, or other extensions of SNA.
- Assumption Testing (AT): is a class of techniques used when there are conflicting beliefs or expectations on the direction or purpose of a project, collaborative or other entity. AT helps sides to see the value and similarities between some points or positions and to recognize that sustainability requires cooperation. Information and dialogue are deliberately sought to generate sufficient information as needed to integrate solutions. The AT approach is useful both within and between organizations.
- Process Monitoring (PM): is a form of implementation monitoring that has at its core a focus on changing implementation based on process information. This is similar to formative evaluation but takes into account individual and organizational contributions to processes aimed at specific outcomes or solutions. PM is especially helpful when multiple sites and/or multiple programs are contributing to one or more outcomes and the expectation of unexpected effects are high and a process for monitoring their emergence and impact are needed.
- Outcome Mapping (OM): is especially suited for working with collaboratives, partnerships, coalitions and other similar initiatives. OM is a process for enhancing innovation, supporting complex partnering and change processes, as well as multiple perspectives and loyalties to organizational agendas. The purpose of OM is to focus on one outcome: to merge the behavior of participants (individuals, organizations, communities) to anticipate and leverage opportunities for mutual action, whether for a planned or unexpected objective. Thus, OM works in non-linear goal setting and action to meet larger system needs that, as part of the OM process, assist partners in meeting their organizational needs. A win-win.
Developmental evaluation found fertile ground in the realm between formative and summative evaluation and advances the use of both by softening an often arbitrary divide driven by funding and policy versus data and reality. In addition, developmental evaluation blends aspects of systems and complexity theory for additional impact. Developmental evaluation is highly influenced by context and is less prescriptive and formal, and thus more creative and applicable to complex opportunities. This form of evaluation is especially helpful when limited resources are available to support complex outcomes, i.e. in rural areas. This form of evaluation is also useful when program adaptation is consistently needed due to changes in context, consumers, providers, policies, and/or resources.
No matter how hard and dedicated program staff or community residents are, there is always the risk of being overwhelmed when facing the realities of complexity. Developmental evaluation uses multiple methods and designs, but has at its heart flexibility and the desire to extract order out of perceived chaos. From this comes innovation. Innovation arises from framing challenges and opportunities by combining evaluation, systems, and complexity perspectives and, critically, not avoiding any of the three. A sample of uses for developmental evaluation includes:
- Additional or Expanding Contexts for a New or Established Program: Successful programs need to compensate when being used in new contexts or for new, previously untargeted or marginally targeted, populations. Developmental evaluation provides a means of assisting with and testing adaptations, plan for expected and unexpected issues, document the process thoroughly, and ensure a feedback process that is not only informative but will assist with changes and evaluating them in turn as well.
- Developing or Expanding an Innovation: Communities and programs are often faced with challenging new issues or increases in known issues that force adaptation or resign to failure. However, change is not automatic and many programs respond by doing more of the same and assuming (with no other perceived choice) that ‘the same’ will impact a new issue. Developmental evaluation assists in the development of new models or new interventions that are contextually sensitive and make sure they are rooted in evidence to the extent possible. Documenting responses, assisting with boundary management, and identifying key issues are key developmental evaluation supports. Applying aspects of complexity and systems sciences broadens the contextual understanding and offers additional supports to new or expanding innovations. Analytic practices based on systems and diffusion of innovation sciences results in not just change, but the right change.
- Responding to Unexpected Events: Dramatic changes in context can render previously impactful programs ineffective. Developmental evaluation, again with systems and complexity discipline integration, can be used to provide rapid assessment and feedback to clients. This can lead to key changes or even the development of new innovations as previously described. Adaptation and recognition of changes in need, focus, resources required, and even mission are supported with constant attention to sustainability.
Our goal at CSI is to blend developmental (and systems!) approaches whenever possible in our evaluation services as standard procedure to enhance our client’s success and satisfaction. At the same time, we will meet all funder’s requirements and expectations.
Evaluation of programs, agencies, and collaboratives (see Evaluation Services section) can lead to systems change or at least begin to set the stage for systems change, but systems will often change in ways that are unexpected or even unwanted without a focused effort. Though systems are constantly in flux, some systems are highly resistant to change and difficult to address for policy, political or practical reasons. Regardless, systems change is possible with the right plan and partners. CSI is ready to assist organizations and collaboratives in undertaking deliberate and sustainable system change.
The CSI team provides workshops, mentoring, and ongoing system change training and support. There are multiple systems change models that can be combined in part or applied entirely depending on the scope and complexity of needed change, e.g. Complex Adaptive Systems or Critical Systems Heuristics. For clients that have a systems change model in place or in mind, CSI will help to evaluate its impact, provide implementation support, and, if needed, help to augment the model. Finding the right fit requires innovation and understanding of complexity modeling, strengths that are part of developmental evaluation expertise of CSI and applied for systems change.
Organizations or collaboratives that want to expand their internal capacity to better serve their client populations and objectives will be assisted in increasing responsiveness to simple, complicated and complex situations. Assisting organizations in using a systems lens changes how problems and solutions are conceptualized, planned for, implemented, and evaluated… from start to finish. Assessing for a linear change model in typical evaluation, while often useful, may not provide the scope of information needed to make a lasting change at the system level due to complex interactions and influences.
Mapping a system and understanding the importance of context are key skills the SCI team provides. Incorporating softs systems methodologies and systemic questioning, to name only two, are specific systems change methodologies that could be used to forward the client organizations goals of system change. Systems change is a nonlinear process that requires guidance and discipline to stay focused on the methods of change and to avoid distraction and resource waste.
A sample of systems change supports provided to CSI clients includes…
- Assessing the current system and the clients place in that system
- System modeling and mapping
- Training in models of systems thinking and systems change
- Systems change training
- Methods for stakeholder engagement and maintenance
- Developing and implementing a systems change plan
- Defining system change and system maintenance indicators
- Data collection and pattern recognition analysis
- Evaluating systems change efforts
- Media and social networking support for systems change efforts
- Fundraising and resource sustainability support
Part of many systems, and often necessary as a precursor to systems change, are developing, implementing, evaluating and otherwise supporting groups of likeminded community members and organizational representatives, often in defined collaboratives, coalitions, or other grassroots structures. The CSI team will help existing grassroots or community groups to develop sustainability and resources, evaluate their impact, improve recruitment of members, and assist with other objectives as assessed. CSI team members have had success in assisting coalitions and similar structures both established and from the very beginning.
No person or organization operates in a vacuum, and developing grassroots networks to meet the needs of high risk, low resource, and disenfranchised populations are often started, but not always successful. Indeed, approximately half of all coalitions do not make it to their first birthday. This is often due to leadership, choice, or resource decisions. Good intentioned people divert resources to help a few with immediate need and expend resources without developing a sustainable infrastructure. The ultimate goal of all coalition support from CSI is to leave a lasting infrastructure that will enhance sustainability and, with time, elevate the coalition to a recognized and integrated part of the larger system.
A sample of services/supports for collaboration and coalition support provided by CSI comprise…
- Assessment and planning
- Setting priorities
- Developing infrastructure
- Leadership training and support
- Implementation strategies and support
- Establishing outcomes
- Project selection and implementation support
- Training and technical assistance
- Recruitment and retention planning
- Marketing planning
- Sustainability planning
- Resource development planning
- Problem solving and conflict resolution
- Establishing a mission and vision
- Job descriptions and organizational charting
- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and
- Threats (SWOT) analysis
The CSI team will assist agencies, programs, collaboratives, or individuals that wish to start a new program or improve service delivery of current programs, improving effectiveness and efficiency. Programs that do not have a curriculum or other supporting documentation often rely on relatively sparse procedural documentation and links to policies related to outcomes. Using techniques specific to implementation and evaluation, the CSI team will assist in documenting, assessing, evaluating and improving programs.
Programs have both an explicit or implicit theory of practice (TOP) and theory of change (TOC). A TOP is the implementation and fidelity expectations of a program that are anticipated to result in planned outcomes. A TOC is the reason(s) why implementing a TOP will lead to expected outcomes. A TOC may be imported, e.g. using Empowerment Evaluation as a model, or emergent, meaning the ‘theory’ behind the combination of resources and services to meet a need. When the TOC and TOP are consistent and paired with sufficient resources and expertise to deliver program content, outcomes should be reached. As program managers know, this is not always the case and many reasons can cause a program to fail to achieve its potential.
When a need is identified, organizational leadership will often look for a program that has, at least, some evidence of effectiveness with preference for an evidence-based program. However evidence-based programs are not a panacea and should be embedded and monitored with care (see Evidence-Based Program Embedding and Support Services). In many cases, such programs are either unaffordable, unavailable, or both. Indeed, organizations often end up moving resources and re-tasking personnel without sufficient training and support. The CSI team is prepared to assist with program development, implementation planning and quality assurance of programs, and the development of best practices. Developing capacities internally can further enhance organizational infrastructure and lead to the development of marketable services and products.
A sample of development and implementation support services offered by CSI include:
- Needs assessment (normative, expressed, and/or perceived needs)
- Establishing or incorporating a TOP and/or a TOC
- Setting mission, goals, and objectives with time frames and persons responsible
- Leadership development
- Data collection including program, organizational and management information
- Context analysis to better predict supports and obstacles for program delivery
- Developing an budget and tracking cost and revenue data
- Resource and cost analysis
- Cost effectiveness or cost-benefit analysis
- Development of change plans including customized support in executing change plans
- Fidelity planning and management
- Installing or improving a performance management system
- Establishing the appropriate evaluation need level and assisting with development of an evaluation system
- Workshops and seminars to improve planning capacity, decision-making and implementation
- Assistance with formation of action teams, coaching groups and project leadership teams
Evidence-based programs often have widely varying levels of empirical support and are established as evidence-based for populations different than a program will be implementing the program with. The CSI team will assist clients with selecting an evidence-based program based on a context analysis for best fit. After a program is selected, services to support implementation, fidelity management, and ensuring sufficient resources are available to maximize effectiveness and anticipated outcomes.
Though rarely a separate process, we highlight developing an organizational evidence-base to emphasize the critical need of documentation and being able to support claims of effectiveness through proper systematic data collection that contributes to sustaining your organization. The varied services CSI provides include documentation and support of the development of organizational infrastructure to maintain and improve, when needed, recording of an organizational or community history. Strong leadership is a benefit, but when leaders inevitably leave, it is difficult for others to take up the reins if there is an insufficient trail to follow. The CSI team will help by assessing the current state of organizational, program, evaluation, financial, and other categories of documenting an organizations history and capacities. This process can be a standalone service and will be discussed with new clients as an important aspect of sustainability.
Today’s world requires an organization that…
- is meeting the needs of its target population,
- has a well-defined mission that organizational
- members at all levels are committed to,
- that adapts to changes in resources and client/consumer needs,
- that views unexpected events as opportunities but plans well enough to be only occasionally surprised,
- is structured for sustainability, effectiveness, and efficiency,
- has strong leadership, advocates and supports,
understands and actively engages in partnering and collaborating,
- and is not afraid to be on the cutting edge.
Is that your organization? It can be.
Strategic planning is about making choices based on evidence and developing a blueprint for action. It is context based because no organization exists in a vacuum and working against context is like swimming against a strong current. At best you are exhausted and have gained little, at worst you drown.
Strategic planning is centered on reducing confusion in a dynamic and sometimes hostile environment through a systematic process of collecting information, reviewing the past, understanding the present, and guiding the future. Old assumptions are tested and new are formed. Priorities are set and action plans are put in place. Commitment is built through this process that drives the organization forward. Good strategic planning recognizes that all organizations are part of a complex system and that this complexity can be understood and even beneficial with a good strategic plan. The CSI team provides professional strategic planning guidance and supports development and implementation of the plan, either as a standalone service or merged with other services.
- Each strategic planning opportunity is unique and may include some or all of the strategic planning services listed here, and others as needed:
- Assessing needs, reviewing plans, organizational documentation and history, for understanding organizational and situational context to maximize plan focus
- Articulating mission, vision, goals, objectives, ethical standards, and benchmarks
- Setting priorities including developing an organizational strategic perspective and defining individualized ‘system fit’ criteria (how your organization fits into a larger system) while having a structure in place for assessing mission drift and resource waste
- Defining system change and system maintenance indicators at multiple organizational, community levels and larger system levels as relevant
- Assessing data collection capacity, data needs, and training as needed to ensure that capacity will meet needs
- Engaging stakeholders, in your organization and external to your organization
- Developing and supporting a strategic plan committee or task force that will guide, monitor, and be responsible for the plans development AND implementation
- Forming advocacy groups, internal and external, to support the change that comes with a strategic plan
- Writing and finalizing the strategic plan
- Developing an evaluation and monitoring plan
- Assisting in the development and training of an implementation team
- Developing an implementation plan cooperatively with the implementation team
- Providing Implementation support (see Program Planning, Development, and Implementation Support Section)
All of CSI’s team is experienced and successful grant writers. Our services include working with client grant-writing team members or leadership, establishing timeframes and persons responsible, assisting in developing budget and budget narratives, writing and reviewing grant sections as negotiated, completing the evaluation section required in many grants, and helping to package the product.
Successful grant-writing requires collecting information relevant to grant content areas and being prepared to meet small windows of time for completing a grant submission. This includes having relevant information at hand for completing a grant response. A related component of our grant-writing service is to review relevant grant opportunities, past and projected, and helping the client to predict information that will be relevant to future grants and establishing a structure at the client organization to gather and maintain the information. Many organizations do not compete for some opportunities because they cannot integrate the needed information in time for submission.
Federal and other grants require a Principal Investigator for the evaluation component of their grants, as do many other granting bodies. The CSI team will select a qualified team member to act as the Principal Investigator if so desired by the client or will work to support the Principal Investigator selected by the client during the grant response development. A related support, the CSI team will prepare the protocols and consents needed for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval if relevant.
With our partner, Curtis Media, the CSI team will support product development and marketing, media coverage, social networking support, development of newsletters and other documentation as contracted, as well as overall branding of a program, service, or product.
Organizations often fail to fully leverage their expertise. Resources are invested in developing a unique and worthwhile approach or product which is used locally. Product or model development should include an evaluative component if formal marketing is the goal, something the CSI team can assist with (see Evaluation Services and Program Planning, Development, and Implementation Support Services sections).
Some programs have difficulty recruiting participants in their program. Media support can assist with client recruitment. Positive program results need to be shared and media support assists with this as well. Leveraging the massive power of social media is a strength of Curtis Media. Working together, documenting program or community success and enlightening the public is a potent combination of Curtis Media and CSI services.
The CSI team works cooperatively to provide expert fundraising, crowdfunding, and revenue generation services. The team is assisting multiple community enhancing projects across the country and have unique and powerful methods to assist in the sustainability of programs in complex environments.
Want to discuss a project?
Dedicated to assisting communities, organizations, and individuals to develop sustainable, integrated, and effective services, supports, and citizens, we welcome all inquiries.