“It’s Lonely Out Here”


I feel compelled to start this month’s update with my thanks to a growing group of organizations that are generously helping us learn from their experiences taking the “leap of reason.” In recent weeks, we have benefited greatly from site visits to Congreso de Latinos Unidos (Philadelphia) and Roca (Chelsea, MA). In the coming weeks, we’ll be visiting with the outstanding teams at Youth Villages, Strive Together and the Strive Network, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, the Lawrence School, the Center for Employment Opportunities, and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

All of these organizations have, against all odds, built cultures of inquiry and continuous improvement. Their executives and boards deserve tremendous credit for the risks they’ve taken to get there.

In the ecosystems in which these organizations operate, collecting and reporting performance data is as likely to get penalized as rewarded. In the words of Mindy Tarlow, the CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities, “It is lonely out here, when you are the one who is reporting the good and the bad when most people think it is not in their interest to do so. It’s difficult for people who are trying to really use facts and really use data, warts and all.”

These and other risks were an important theme of an October 5 symposium convened by Elizabeth Boris, Gene Steuerle, and Mary Winkler of the Urban Institute. The symposium brought together two dozen top thought leaders and practitioners—including Michael Bailin, Bill Dietel, Patrick Lawler, Dan Cardinali, Bridget Laird, and Mindy Tarlow—to brainstorm on what it will take to help the social sector embrace an outcomes culture.

Encouraged by moderators Elizabeth Boris and Public/Private Ventures’ CEO Nadya Shmavonian, the group offered a diverse array of additional insights on the barriers that stand in the way of broad adoption of more-disciplined, data-driven management approaches. And participants offered a wealth of top-down and bottom-up ideas for overcoming these barriers. By early December, we plan to begin sharing the document externally to collect additional insights and tap the wisdom of crowds.

And now here are some of the recent indicators that the Leap of Reason message is getting traction and provoking debate:

And here’s some fun serendipity for you: A few days ago I ventured into Gallucci’s, my favorite Italian food market, and one of the managers who was making pasta shouted out, “The book! I’m reading it, and we really do need ways to be more accountable.”

When we released Leap of Reason in May, we quietly started sending out books and an email announcement to respected leaders. No big launch event. No book parties. No bugle blasts.

But we hoped that Leap of Reason would encourage a meaningful number of first-wave readers to start important conversations within their networks, and that these separate ripples might begin to converge and spawn new ripples within additional networks, sectors, and geographies.

We can now see that’s happening beyond any reasonable expectation. We now have 20,000 copies of the book in circulation. For the sake of all of the families and communities we all serve, I hope the conversation continues to build. Thank you for continuing to spread the word.

– Mario Morino