R2G Conference Fall 2018
September 11th and 12th
Leaders of Rust to Green Binghamton (R2GB) and Rust 2 Green Utica (R2GU) came together at a retreat in Hamilton, NY, this past September. Over the course of two days, key partners discussed Rust to Green’s (R2G’s) individual and collective histories, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses as a starting point for developing a robust evaluation plan. The purpose of this meeting was to allow each Rust 2 Green organization to rigorously identify its impacts and how they are achieved, including the critical role of university-community relations in achieving them. In pursuing this in-depth self-evaluation, the retreat participants also saw an opportunity to identify key relationships between the two R2G projects, as well as the means by which to strengthen these moving forward, and create a greater sense of cohesion across a growing number of partners and community members. To begin this endeavor, Rust 2 Green partners recounted the histories of each effort through a collective timeline-mapping exercise.
Partners collaborating to construct Rust 2 Green’s shared history timeline
Photos: Amanda Curtis
This activity, pictured above, allowed the team to visualize when and how the two projects’ histories have intersected with one another. Identifying these key points helped partners to better understand similarities and differences between the two projects as well as ways in which they’ve influenced one another. The picture on the left shows Paula Horrigan, founder of Rust 2 Green Utica writing across the boundaries of the sections set aside for R2GU and R2GB respectively. Paula structured the timeline activity in this way, to visualize how a the two projects have evolved over the same time period.
Identifying these intersections also set the stage for considering the linkages between project principles, activities, and impacts. The ultimate goal for each R2G project is to clearly articulate its theory of change and to utilize the theory to create and implement a robust evaluation plan for assessing impacts and strengthening the individual and collective efforts.
Monica Hargraves and Claire Hebbard, of the Cornell Office for Research on Evaluation (CORE), served as facilitators, guiding participants through the development of “pathway models” for each project. Pathway models are a way of visually representing the relationships between actions and outcomes, and, in turn, are a way of physically representing theories of change.
Under Monica’s and Claire’s guidance, each team collaboratively brainstormed activities and outcomes, writing them on individual index cards. These cards were rearranged over and over again and the connecting lines redrawn until the team felt fairly comfortable with the relationships they had depicted. Monica and Claire uploaded these pathway models into Netway, a software program designed to allow evaluation teams to edit and refine their pathway models online. CORE describes the Netway as “an evaluation system that will revolutionize how managers track all the evaluation efforts across their organizations- overcoming the challenges of geographic dispersal, inconsistent reporting methods, isolated evaluation efforts, and varying evaluation capacity." Use of the Netway "results in smarter organizations - by increasing team collaboration and program planning, simplifying documentation and reporting, and developing well thought out evaluation plans that streamline evaluation with program management priorities” (CORE website).
Pathway modeling allows an organization to better visualize its resource flow and to evaluate its efficiency overall. It also can help an organization identify opportunities for growth, including areas of too little investment or areas where invested resources are producing minimal output. In the case of Rust 2 Green, the creation of pathway models provided a means for articulating and refining principles of practice and goals in a shared and collaborative way. For example, one of the principles of practice originally identified was that R2GB is bi-partisan. Through discussion the group agreed that the project really strives to be non-partisan, working with citizens from all and no political parties. This was an important point of discussion as it reinforced aspects of the R2GB mission, such as a vision to promote increased civic participation and collaboration and lead to greater sense of cohesion across organizational partners.
As a student, it was fascinating to hear each of these leader’s perspectives on what enabled R2G to prosper in certain seasons and what some of the greatest obstacles have been over the years. There were moments of laughter with the recollection of fond memories and difficult trials surpassed, as well as a few moments of heart-wrenching tears over the depth of some of the systematic social issues these leaders so passionately want to address. These instances made the heart of the organization a tangible organic entity - in these moments, it became clear that Rust to Green isn’t just a bunch of ideas on paper, but a room full of passionate people committed to positive change, who challenge the status quo. I saw in each of them what it means to fight humbly, but persistently.
Over the summer, each of the R2G Civic Fellows summer interns (myself included) completed a Learning Action Plan, which encouraged each of us to set personal and professional goals and commit to a plan for moving forward with those goals during our time with Rust to Green. One of the goals I set last summer was to be a better listener. The discussions during the conference challenged me to listen carefully, to observe those around me and to be cognizant of the space I was using to speak. It made me discern more carefully when it is appropriate or beneficial to ask a question or share an idea. By observing how the partners interacted with each other, I learned how to better pose a question or offer a suggestion in a way that shows greater recognition and respect for a person speaking before me. Many of the partners wrote down their questions and suggestions as the discussion continued, and waited for an appropriate break in the discourse to bring them up to the rest of the team. On the second day of the conference, I practiced this behavior myself and found that I absorbed so much more from the discussion. I was able to observe small details in the body language of different partners in response to certain points made during the discussion. I began to observe more closely how the partners interacted and related to each other, instead of being focused on how I was interacting with each person. In this way, stepping back allowed me to better understand this community to which I have grown connected.
That being said, I am still contemplating how this balance of sitting back and stepping forward applies to how we engage with one another as community members and fellow citizens. How can institutions observe one another to learn about the different dynamics they engage with and are a part of? What happens when we magnify these personal communication skills to a broader scale of engagement? I think that recognizing when to use our voice and when it is better to listen is critical when aspiring to create and protect a space where all stakeholders can participate in a dialogue. This is one of the key goals of participatory action research, to empower the diverse array of voices in a community, or, more appropriately, to provide an outlet for these voices to demonstrate the power they already rightfully have.
As Rust 2 Green evolves in the years to come, some of these positions will change hands, and different issues will take center stage. Though a lot of work to develop, the evaluation plan will provide an anchor for R2G’s values, increasing the projects’ credibility and possibly leading to increased funding and institutional support within the respective communities and academia. Equally important, it will help these sustainability advocates better discern where to invest their limited time and resources to increase the overall effectiveness and impact of their work.