Chapter 4 describes a number of projects that together tell an important part of the story of Michigan’s philanthropy. In some cases, Michigan found a project created elsewhere and then modified or replicated it for implementation in the state. At other times, projects created in Michigan were replicated by other communities, states, or nations. We can certainly agree that it makes sense to learn from the experiences of others.
As we researched these projects in preparation for writing the chapters, a series of fairly predictable steps were revealed that were taken to transfer a project from one venue to another.
Implementation of a new program requires insight into an opportunity for change in the current situation. In starting the process of importing, modifying or replicating a project, some person or group needs to identify and quantify the problem or opportunity.
Replication often begins with a conversation. This can be a discussion just between two people with an idea – one who is willing to share what they have learned and another who is eager to find a way to help the people of their city, state, or country.
As an idea matures, bring others into the discussion who should be involved because of their knowledge of the situation, experience, interest, or other stakeholder involvement.
This is a good stage to start a discussion with potential funders who have an interest in the area under consideration. Their personal expertise, links to national programming, relationships with related experts, and experience in project design can help you develop the idea and determine whether to go forward or not. This expansion of the conversation might involve several iterations; that is part of the process of fine-tuning the message and the plan, which are two key ingredients for a successful project.
Preliminary research should be completed before moving forward. Conduct a review of pertinent literature, formal studies, survey research, and market surveys. If the project is being effectively implemented in another location, a site visit to the current project and discussions with those who have developed the project are useful next steps. Often in informal conversation, details about challenges and lessons are more readily shared than in a formal written evaluation of a project.
Next, it is important to further define your proposed project by “putting it down on paper.” This not only makes it easier to share your idea, it will help you focus on every step, every turn that is required from beginning to end. The person who has identified the problem or opportunity is usually the one who prepares the formal “white paper” that describes the problem or opportunity and what is being proposed to be done.
For projects that will be led by only one organization, the white paper is discussed by the appropriate committee of that organization. If the project is a joint venture, the paper is taken to the right committee of each partner for their consideration. Based on the discussions in committee, the idea is revised and a volunteer advisory committee is developed. Often the advisory committee is composed of individuals who have been nurturing the idea throughout the process, plus any other stakeholders who should be involved to ensure success.
The organization leading the effort should select a skilled leader to chair the committee. The committee should include everyone who needs to be included – fault on the side of inclusion even it if means a large committee.
With approval of a refined plan to move forward, it is helpful to hire or appoint a person with responsibility as the Project Director. Even in collaborative ventures, or perhaps most importantly in collaborative ventures, having one person with the responsibility and authority to lead the modification and implementation of the project makes the difference between success and failing.
A three year pilot project provides the opportunity to test an idea, learn valuable lessons in implementation, sort out staffing and volunteer needs, and work through any political issues. A three year project is also less expensive and therefore more easily launched.
Formative evaluation of a pilot project is essential. A professional outside evaluator working as a team member provides extremely useful feedback regarding what is working – and what isn’t. They are free to interact with project leaders, participants, and those being served and can bring insights from these conversations in to the project so adjustments can be made.
The professionals managing the project often are the ones who can provide quantitative measurement on deliverables – how many, how much, when, cost, etc. The outside evaluators can provide interpretive information that often is not available to project leaders.
By the second year of implementation of a project it becomes fairly clear whether the initial idea has efficacy in the field. In some cases, a good idea does not attract further funding. This may be because of the program design, the modifications that have been made, the leadership, or simply timing related to the interest of the potential funders. At that point it makes sense to end the project at the end of the funding period, change the model, or defer implementation to another day.
When the decision is made to expand, often the commitment to the project becomes long-term, decades, rather than as short-term efforts. By deciding in the second year whether to move forward, and what level of intensity, there is time to refine the model based on lessons learned and raise the needed money.