Friday, December 28, 2012

Fighting to Avoid Change

I had an evaluation contract recently to evaluate an organization's safe schools programs. My job was to evaluate the degree to which they were achieving their identified objectives and implementing their program as designed.

The bottom line is that they were neither achieving objectives nor implementing their program as designed. Every time the project director tried to do something she was supposed to do, she was foiled by upper administration. They said they wanted change, but they did everything in their power to stop change. So, the project director stayed busy doing other things - good things - while staying away from any controversy that might affect her job.

Halfway through their 4-year grant period, they were subject to a federal monitoring visit because of a clash between the grant's lead partners and the dysfunctional administration of the grantee (my client). I was asked to share results.  I did. I said they were neither achieving objectives nor implementing the program as designed.

Until that moment, I had no idea how far people would go to cover their tracks and avoid change. The administration rose up and started pointing at all the wonderful things they were doing. I made that the point that those activities were, indeed, wonderful, but they would not do a thing to get them closer to achieving their objectives. I also reminded them that they selected the activities that they put in their grant because they were evidence-based practices that would likely lead to positive changes in the areas targeted by their objectives.

Things got ugly. Soon, fingers started pointing at the evaluation as the culprit.  That perplexed me because the evaluation had no role in implementation at all.  How could it possibly be our fault that they were not doing what they had agreed to do?

But they were persistent and brutal.

They asked for (and were granted) permission to change some of their objectives to say simply that they were successful at doing what they were doing.

Six months later, when it came time to contract for another year, I declined and walked away. Clearly, the administration was more interested in avoiding change than making their schools any safer. I know that sounds harsh, and I know that those administrators would never, ever admit to such a thing.  Maybe they don't even realize what they are doing, but avoiding accountability is avoiding change and fighting to keep the status quo. I couldn't be part of that anymore.

The result?

They hired another evaluator, presumably one who they hope will tell them what they want to hear.

And now, at the end of the grant period, the schools are no safer than they were before the grant was written, nothing has really changed in the infrastructure of the organization that can reasonably be expected to make their schools safer, and there is even more gang activity (and it's more violent) in the community than there was before.

Millions of federal dollars were spent and nothing significant has changed.


Because it's human nature for people to avoid change and, if their jobs may be affected in any way, they will fight to avoid it. The status quo, the "way things have always been done," is a very powerful force. Clearly, throwing money at it is not the key to change. Don't get me wrong. Financial resources may be necessary for change, but they are not the most important part.

The most important part is buy-in, and not just the buy-in of your collaborative partners, although that is very important.  Often, the buy-in you need most to make anything real happen is on the part of people you didn't even think to bring to the table.

So, as you are thinking about applying for a collaborative grant, ask yourself, "If we get this grant, who could really sabotage our efforts and cause us to fail?" That is who also needs to be at the table from the beginning.


RichWheeler said...
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RichWheeler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Despite the sabotage by the administrators, the failure belongs to the administrator. A project needs a baseline against which progress can be measured, and the shortcomings should be documented from the very beginning. When it becomes clear that the project will not achieve the sponsor-approved goals, the administrator has an ethical obligation to report it to the sponsor and, if corrective measures can't be taken, terminate the project. Piddling with busywork is not an option.

The lessons of the failed, grant-funded project point to the need for project management skills, including stakeholder analysis, requirements analysis, monitoring and reporting results, risk analysis and management, change control, and ethics.

For a generic framework, see the "Project Management Institute's book, Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide" (5th edition to be published next monthe).

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Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.