The best intentions to deliver human service programs fall short if an agency or organization does not have leaders trained to ensure the quality and effectiveness of those programs through continuous evaluation and accountability.
This is where University of Maryland School of Social Work, Associate Professor Karen Hopkins comes in. Co-director of the School’s Human Service Leadership and Management Certificate program, Hopkins has teamed up with the Annie E. Casey Foundation on a five-year initiative to develop the performance management capacity of current and future human service professionals through education, coaching, evaluation, and coursework. “I believe strongly that it is important for human service workers, especially in supervisory and management roles, to be able to effectively track and measure the work and results they are achieving (or not) with individuals, families and communities,” says Hopkins, “and create opportunities for improvement and success.”
Not only is the project aimed at increasing the leadership pipeline, but it is also “expanding the bench,” by recruiting students and professionals of color, whom Hopkins says have been “underrepresented in professional roles associated with performance management and evaluation,” to participate in the training.
Besides the University of Maryland, other project partners funded by AECF include Morgan State University; four Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Florida; and Sisters of the Academy (SOTA), an association of female, black scholars. Each of the seven partner organizations is responsible for expanding the bench in performance management through various approaches that target their respective audiences in their locations, while achieving a common set of accountability measures as well as unique measures across all our settings.
The multi-pronged initiative for the UMSSW includes a performance management training program with three cohorts of human service professionals of color, featuring four intensive seminars and monthly peer coaching circles led by trained results-based accountability (RBA) professional coaches over a six month period to help embed the learning from the training. Additionally, RBA content is being integrated into the curricula of the School’s continuing education program. There are now RBA and Performance
Management and Measurement workshops embedded into the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) program, as well as facilitated coaching sessions.
Just as Hopkins teaches evaluation skills, she practices them herself, measuring the project’s performance through follow-up assessments with each cohort. Results from the first cohort of human service professionals show that the program, now in its third year, is having a significant impact, with more than 80% of those trained reporting implementation of RBA principles in their agencies. Members of that first group also report engaging in consultation and evaluation with other organizations, sharing the methods they learned beyond their own programs.
Meanwhile, the project is beginning to have meaningful effects on curriculum at the School of Social Work, with new graduate courses in results-based accountability and performance management, as well as the infusion of RBA principles into existing classes (i.e. Program Development). Plans to continue expanding curricular offerings support the sustainability of the initiative. Having RBA assignments and projects linked to agency programs in real-time has helped students apply a performance management framework and learn to demonstrate a clear and straightforward process to plan for and gauge the results and potential impacts of both community and organizational efforts in service delivery. As future human service professionals and agency managers, these skills, learned as students, are paramount to organizational effectiveness and consumer success.
Hopkins, who is a national peer reviewer for the Standards of Excellence Institute certification for nonprofits, is encouraged by the progress the project has made and its prospects going forward. This initiative, “expands the bench and pipeline,” says Hopkins, “by creating a more diverse cadre of professionals with evaluation and performance management skills, which benefits organizations, communities and those being served.