I'm currently leading a project where we are bringing together four nonprofits and 11 young people who have dropped out of high school and/or who are aging out of foster care. There's a lot of data about the bad outcomes for HS dropouts, but not a lot of political will in some areas to do something about it. Through our project we are working with our student teams to help them videotape interviews with their peers and pull together digital stories that make the numbers come alive for people. Our ultimate goal is to put faces with the numbers so that we can engage the entire community in addressing the needs and issues of these youth.
As this is a grant-funded project, one of the requirements, of course is evaluation. This is being conducted by an outside organization using a technique I haven't previously experienced in these kinds of projects--"most significant change stories." Each month our team is required to submit 1-3 stories about what we are learning and how this is impacting the structure and approach of our projects, as well as our outcomes. It's been an interesting experience that has forced us to reflect more carefully on what is happening with our work.
I've written previously about incorporating reflective practice into individual work and organizational culture. This "most significant change story" strategy would be an excellent addition to the process. It could be used to:
- Regularly reflect on your individual growth or the growth of a department or organization.
- Measure the progress of various projects, similar to how it's being used with my project.
- Help you or your organization reflect on crucible experiences, those "trial by fire" times in our life when everything about us is tested.
- As part of a leadership development or certification training program.
The structure of the process is that we respond to several questions:
- At what level is the change--individual, organizational, system-wide or community-wide?
- How was the story obtained? (did it come from personal experiences? Overheard in meetings? Told to you by someone else?)
- What's the story?
- Why is it significant?
- Which project outcome is it impacting and how?
Obviously the specific reflection questions might change depending on the context in which the stories are being gathered.
In our case, we are submitting the stories to evaluators who are compiling them for a final report. If you used this process for reflective practice, however, I would see using social media tools. For example, individual reflections might be maintained in a blog or microblog, like Tumblr. If you were using this as a tool for organizational development, I would create a wiki where there would be a more collaborative opportunity to build upon and comment on the stories, maintaining them in a single repository. If your organization was particularly brave, I'd even open up these significant change stories to your customers, at a minimum so they could see how you reflect on your experiences as an organization. Ideally you'd allow customers to submit their own and/or comment on what you've shared.
To encourage reflective practices, you have to create the right kinds of structures for them to flourish. The most significant change story technique combined with social media might be a good place to start.