In moving forward, it will be important to consider more robust methods for capturing the broad benefits that urban fellowship can provide.
Assessing the Impacts and Promise of Urban Fellowships
Tom Burns, Managing Director, Urban Ventures Group, Inc.
Kathy Hexter, Director, CSU’s Center for Community Planning and Development (Mentor-SC2)
Lauren Bulka, Research Associate, Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech (SC2)
Returning to earlier discussions, this session sought to the link definitions of success framed earlier in the day with approaches we have to track, document, and measure fellowship programs. Building upon this foundation, to help frame conversation, leading evaluation experts Tom Burns and Kathy Hexter reflected on the important role of urban fellowship program evaluations, and the greatest challenges and opportunities for documenting and measuring these programs.
Burns and Hexter noted that evaluating the impact and influence of urban fellows and fellowship programs varies depending on the vantage points of the individual fellow, the program director, the host and the community at large. Traditional measures include retention rates, inventory of project or program deliverables/outputs, and temporary and long-term capacity for the host organization. Tom Burns urged us to move beyond these traditional notions by assessing: 1) the durability of the fellows’ network; 2) the extent which their work helped integrated systems, and 3) the facilitation of changing the culture of an organizations.
In opening the floor, all symposium participants were invited to share their reflections on defining success, the impacts of their work, the impact of their program more broadly, and what this means for the promise of urban fellowships. Participants were guided by the panelist comments and three primary questions: 1) how did you measure success – for yourself, for your program? Did it evolve? How did it evolve? 2) What do you think are the real and possible impacts of your work, and your program? 3) What do you view as the greatest promise for urban fellowships?
Outlined below is a summary of the reflections shared by panelists and participants….
Fellows as Disruptive Change in Public Sector
Urban fellowships are “startups for the public sector,” catalysts of innovation, first guards of change in the public sector.
Participant Arto Woodley compared urban fellows’ traits and experiences to those of the first group of astronauts in their ability to encounter and tolerate untested solutions in ambiguous, unknown environments.
Organizational Cultural Change
Many fellows work at the project level, managing work in the middle, with often “invisible results.”
System reform in government is a crucial need for making urban fellowships more effective.
One question is how organizations can use this opportunity to add to its staff, at least temporarily, taking advantage of what is already in place, what exists. How can organizations best use a fellow?
Importance of Time
An ideal fellowship placement is 18 months to two years. Shorter-term fellowships are unlikely to yield results.
Fellowship ROI — Making the Business Case
Urban fellowships are a good investment but have many front-end costs, and are relatively expensive approaches to building city capacity. The question is, what is the approximate value of a fellowship in dollars and cents? Compared to what? And what for?
A case can be made with potential employers and business donors tha a comparable investment is management training program in Fortune 500 companies. A case can be made for private sector investment into a fellowshp program. Sustaining the program over time will remain a pressing concern.
Adding Academic Credibility to Fellowship Programs
Adding credibility of fellowship programs in academic space, certification.
Evaluation for Strategic Learning
Rather than see evaluation as a one-time measure at the end of a period or project, panelist Tom Burns suggested ongoing evaluation, “improving as you go along.”