It’s hard to plan a journey unless you have some idea of where you are going and what route you’re going to take to get there. When your journey involves creating some kind of social change or transformation then a map is imperative (if only to stop you paddling in circles).
Theory of Change is an excellent mapping tool. We use it to help our groups articulate their vision and to plan the pathway of change that’s going to get them there. It’s particularly helpful for us to use the theories of change to build a picture of how each of the funded activities link to our own CEC theory of change.
On the internet are a range of resources that will help you create a theory of change. We’ve also learned a few things whilst developing our theories of change that we thought would be worth sharing:
1.There isn’t a one size fits all model. Early on, we imagined that we would create one template, and fit the different theories of change into that. If only it were that easy. What we found along the way is that as each group is different, so are their theories of change – not only in what they look like but in how different people approach them and the different things they want to pay attention to.
2. If it looks good, chances are it will make it to the wall. The best place for a Theory of Change is the wall – preferably one that lots of people walk past or look at. Being on the wall gives everyone a constant reminder of where it is they’re supposed to be heading and helps keep a tight focus on the vision and outcomes.
3.Sometimes it’s easier to have no process. There are a lot of resources out there to help create a theory of change, but we found the easiest process was to simply ask two questions*, and then to write furiously while they were answered. Once that was done, together we organised the outcomes into time frames and then agreed on what it might look like.
4.Our projects are developmental, and their theories of change might adapt in response to learning and priorities. And we’re OK with that.
Introducing our theories of change
Each of our groups has their own theory of change. Whilst they look different, what they all have in common is a pathway of change from the beginning or initial stages of the project to a 20 year vision.
Overall CEC theory of change Vision: To disrupt disadvantage, leading to a more just and equitable society
The focus of the CEC theory of change is on how our activities and behaviours impact systems-level outcomes by using a series of statements that outline behaviours (“if we”), activities (“by”) and outcomes (“then”). Statements are arranged around six areas of focus that the committee believes make the greatest contribution to the provision of relevant, positive and quality education in communities.
Overall CEC theory of change
Te Hā o Mātauranga, Learning in Kaikōura Vision: Our community having the skills and choices to live the life they want
This theory of change presents the short, medium and long term outcomes as a series of interconnected stepping stones, which are supported by ways of working (‘we will do this by’, ‘this will lead to’) and “how” statements. All this is guided by the vision.
Te Hā o Mātauranga, Learning in Kaikōura theory of change
Ranui Action Project Vision: Reduce disadvantage leading to a more just and equitable society
The Ranui theory of change is separated into four pathways: Cultural identity; relationships and connections; skills and knowledge and contribution. Outcomes for each pathway are organised into time frames (short – medium – long term), and the arrows are used to show how these are interconnected. Incidentally, Ranui chose to adopt the vision of the JR McKenzie Trust as their own vision.
Ranui theory of change
Muaūpoko Tribal Authority Vision: Tamariki and Rangatahi who are well supported and strong in their Muaūpoko identity
This simple theory of change uses an “if, then” series of outcomes to show how each outcome builds on the next. A logic model sits in behind the theory of change which details the inputs, activities, and outputs.
Whanganui Learning Centre Vision is at the centre. A emphasis on ground-up and developmental ways of working is echoed by the flow of the changes (from the outside in). Considers how the project influences outcomes at the individual, local and national levels. Note that this theory of change is still under development as the Learning Centre have taken it back to their community for feedback.
*The two basic questions we use are: 1. Let's imagine that in 20 years time you are sitting on a chair on your front porch looking out over your community, feeling very happy and proud about what you are looking at. What does that look like? What are your the people doing? How are they feeling? 2. What needed to change between now and then to make that happen?
The CEC project is led by a governing committee, who oversee funding and strategic decisions. Recently, the committee has moved from managing risk, to engaging risk. They are not afraid of engaging with ideas and projects that are new, untested and unproven. But their decisions are not made in an information vacuum.
The more time we spend working with CEC, the more we learn, which leads to new ideas about what might work to make change. This evidence is shared with the committee and our groups, to help support and plan for long term activity to support educational success.
In the interests of supporting other communities groups to disrupt disadvantage by strengthening the connections between communities and education, we have compiled some evidence around different ways of working, what is involved, the pros and cons, and likelihood of achieving CEC goals with these activities:
Creating a School Curriculum
Community participation in schools
Fostering social connections for Pasifika
Community revitalisation/community building/community development
Information and communication technology hubs
Computers and devices in homes
A basic table of the evidence we have collected so far is presented below, or you can download a copy of our evidence document (with sources and additional resources) here.
Time and Resource Requirements
Strengths of the approach (evidence)
Challenges of the approach (evidence)
Desired impact for CEC
Creating a school curriculum
Time intensive in development phase (less intensive once complete but on-going improvement and evaluation needed). Need skilled and knowledgeable community members.
Community supports education and learnings reinforced in community settings (Uemura, 1999).
Identifying people within the school system willing to support this approach. Time and resourcing for community knowledge holders to participate.
High, if learning supported in community settings also.
Time intensive Short-term
Useful to build momentum behind an initiative in the initial stages.
Little evidence of effectiveness.
Low, without a broader strategy
Long-term. Intensity ebbs and flows with activity
Increases the visibility of projects within communities, making learning spaces outside traditional school settings more inclusive
Complex and long-term strategy
Promising but little education- specific evidence
Community participation in schools
Long-term. Intensity ebbs and flows with activity.
Schools, families, and communities partnerships can improve school programs and school climate; provide family services and support; increase parents’ skills and leadership; connect families with others in the school and in the community; help teachers with their work.
Resistance amongst teachers, families and communities not willing to get involved, and power imbalances.
Medium but school focused rather than community focussed.
Whānau Ora –Māori
Long-term. Intensity ebbs and flows with activity. Connections to whānau, marae, hapu and iwi. Resources to support local groups.
Social networks provide important opportunities for children’s learning –developing a sense of cultural identity and belonging, feelings of wellbeing.
Fostering social connections for Pasifika
Long-term. Intensity ebbs and flows with activity. Connections to Pasifika community groups and leaders. Resources to support local groups.
When communities work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.
Community revitalisation/ community building/ community development
Need to build coalitions and engage skilled people.
Children need stable lives to learn, schools need to understand children’s living environments.
Complex problems to address e.g. housing; power imbalances between school, families and community; low SES areas often lack resources.
Information and communication technology hubs
High investment in set up Ongoing resourcing to run and maintain the hub (e.g. coordinators salary)
Highly attractive resource especially in low SES communities Fosters a community of learners
Public access facilities are important but their value can be limited to those willing or able to use them and this model should not be an exclusive solution.
Computers and devices in homes
Medium if in partnership with IT companies Coordination, skilled trainers
Access to ICTs in the home appears to provide significant benefits and these benefits increase for children when usage is successfully and overtly linked to school curriculum.
Project sustainability and scalability can be at risk where the only funding options are project based and temporal.
Three dumb questions to ask a 15 year old: 1. Can you please put your phone down for just five minutes? 2. Do you really need to see your friends this weekend? 3. What do you want to do when you leave school?
Of all these questions, the last one is the most problematic. Unlike the first two questions, the third question - what do you want to do when you leave school - is almost impossible for our teens to answer. This is because artificial intelligence (AI) and globalisation are impacting so significantly on jobs that it's almost impossible to predict what the future workforce might look like.
What we do know, thanks mostly to innovative research being conducted by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), is that young people graduating now are likely to work in 17 different jobs – many yet unknown and unknowable - across 5 careers, through a working life of 60 to 70 years.
In May the JR McKenzie Trust and the Ministry of Youth Development partnered to offer a presentation on The New Work Order by Jan Owen from the FYA. Their research shows that a new work order is arriving – fast. The world of work is in a massive transition to an ever more global, technology driven, flexible economy in which whole professions are being altered, new professions are coming into existence, and traditional jobs are being swallowed by automation.
The role of education in preparing our young people to meet the unknowable future is huge. Yet we are, as Ken Robinson says, using an outmoded industrial educational system to prepare our young people for a rapidly changing future.
Projects such as those funded by Connecting Education and Communities have a crucial role in helping communities and their education providers to become more responsive to the educational needs of young people and their whānau. To do this, we support each CEC project to ensure active and authentic participation from the target groups so that activities are responsive to the aspirations of whānau, hapu, iwi. We believe that by doing this communities will be increasingly recognised as important partners in improving education.
What we want to see, ideally, (and with reference again to Ken Robinson) is communities and education providers taking a highly personalised, organic approach that draws on technological and professional resources to engage all students, develop their love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges of the twenty-first century.
There is this inspirational quote that says “be like a duck. Calm on the surface but paddling like the dickens underneath”. I don’t know who first said this – but clearly they didn’t spend much time paddling. It’s tiring. And boring. And it doesn’t matter how calm you look if you’re just paddling in circles.
Projects that focus too tightly on their activities are duck projects. There is a lot of busy paddling happening, but the outcomes and the vision often get forgotten about in the busyness of doing. Very little learning or reflection happens; these too are lost in the busyness of having to keep yourself above water.
It’s very easy to fall into duck mode when you’re trying to create innovative social change. A far more effective model is the one used by the surfing Gentoo penguins. These surfing birds keep their eye on the horizon so they can see the swell and anticipate the wave set. They look to the shore to know how far they can ride the wave before hitting the sand or the reef below. And then when a wave comes that looks promising, then and only then, do they paddle like heck.
These penguins use what we like to call a tight-loose-tight approach. A ‘tight loose tight’ project is one where there is a tight focus on the project vision, a loose focus on the way the goals might be achieved (the activities), and a tight focus on outcomes. This approach is visualised below:
Surfing - more fun than paddling
This approach uses a learning culture in which insights and feedback are discussed and there is an openness to adjusting the prototype, trying new ways of working and failing fast. Innovation is held lightly and these important questions are asked constantly:
Check: In what ways have the activities we have undertaken helped us towards achieving our vision? What differences have we made? And for whom? How do we know?
Reflect: What’s working? What looks promising? What’s not working?
Adapt: To achieve our outcomes, what do we need to do more of? Less of? Differently?
Activities that aren’t working towards the vision or to support intended outcomes are therefore changed, adapted or let go entirely as there is no point spending time and energy on paddling just for the sake of paddling. Take a bit of time to think about your social innovation project and activities. Are you paddling crazily like a duck, or surfing like a penguin? If you find yourself quacking under the pressure, it might be time to think about doing things a bit differently.
CEC is sometimes a bit tricky to describe. It has a name (Connecting Education and Communities), so that’s helpful. It has several agreed aims, principles and values. That's helpful too. But if we are ever actually asked the question “so what does CEC actually look like,” we hesitate.
Because it looks so different in each community. And as each community is developing and changing their project all the time, it makes it hard to pin down a description of what’s happening that lasts for longer than a couple of months.
As a project team, we’ve learned to be comfortable with this diverse and ever-changing reality. But we also have a committee that we report to, who need good information to help make decisions. We have a theory of change and an evaluation framework, which needs good information to help us understand what difference we are making. We have other stakeholders, including our groups, who like to know what’s going on.
The thing is - we don't want to overburden our groups with reporting. We fund them to create connections, to innovate, to collaborate, to reflect, to make a difference and understand what differences they are making, and for whom. We'd really rather they didn't spend their time writing reports for us on how they are doing this. However we also need to make sure that our groups are on track and that things are going OK for them.
So we started looking for a solution. We needed to find a way for our groups to 'report', without reporting. We wanted it to be visual, to allow creativity and allow multiple people to view, and use. We needed different levels of access permission so that our groups could confidently share what's working, as well as what isn't. It also needed to be super easy to use. Most importantly it needed to be free.
After some time spent looking, and testing, we settled on Trello.
One of our Trello boards
Trello is a collaboration tool that gives us a visual overview of what’s happening across all our projects. Each of our funded projects has a series of boards that they can update regularly. These boards not only enable us, and our committee, to see what’s happening, they also offer each group a way to tell their stories of change and track their projects over time.
Purists use Trello to project manage, but we find it equally useful as as an evaluation and reflection tool. We don’t have lists of things to do. Instead, we use it to share what we’re learning, to celebrate our successes, and show others what we are up to.
Most importantly, it's allowed us to track and visualise multiple projects. If you are looking for a tracking, reflection and evaluation tool for multiple projects then we would recommend considering Trello as an option.
Norman Kirk, had a simple theory when it came to happiness: "All Kiwis want is someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work, and something to hope for."
Hope is an ontological need. We cannot live without it. This is not the shallow hope of buying a lotto ticket but genuine hope: the belief that the world / my life can be better and it is accompanied by having some ability to influence achievement of that.
All people have the right to hope.
The nearest concept to hope in Te Ao Maori is Mana. I am not talking about the word used to describe the odd rugby player but mana is an essential value of being human and a generative power for development of individuals and groups. The processes of colonisation have diminished mana. Our processes must enhance mana.
Mana and hope are not the same but share similar characteristics in their role in our lives.
Mana and hope are abstract concepts brought to life by concrete actions. To sustain hope we need to be able to influence the world around us. By acting respectfully, valuing the contribution of others, looking for the positives in a relationship, we enhance mana.
To build the skills to enable us to shape our future we engage in learning The processes of learning also need to be processes that enhance mana.
Learning thrives in an environment of positive relationships-mana enhancing relationships.
Learning thrives when it makes connections to and builds from what we know already.
So CEC is about understanding whanau and community aspirations, and finding the tools to make those aspirations a reality in an environment that enhances the mana of all involved.
We want to strengthen the engagement of communities with education; because it enables choices. Not just the choices offered by education institutions but the choices aspired to by whanau/families and communities.
It is political in that at its core is the desire to empower whanau and communities to exercise more control over what happens to them. To achieve that it will inevitably disrupt some of the current order.
So CEC does not have a blueprint of what we should do. We are engaged in a process. It sets some boundaries - its field of endeavour is learning and how to grow it and those who benefit should be those whanau and communities with the fewest choices.
CEC unashamedly seeks a better world. To give tools that enable people to achieve their aspirations. It does this in a manner that enhances the mana of all involved
Disruptive social innovation describes a way of tackling social problems that requires engagement with communities to design a project or service that actually addresses their needs and interests. It disrupts more traditional ways of doing projects (i.e. planned for a couple of years, top-down and expensive and by the time things get going the problem has often changed) and the process is visionary, adaptive and highly collaborative.
The Connecting Education and Communities (CEC) project aims to disrupt disadvantage by strengthening the connections between communities and education. The project works with innovative, locally-led initiatives that drive the impact of CEC in each community through vision, adaptation, and a commitment to collaboration.
There is, however, more to disruption than just saying you are disruptive. We encourage each of our groups to intentionally apply some disruptive principles to their community development work, namely:
Engage with people at different parts of the project who have different ideas Getting a team of specialists together or relying on the same old faces is unlikely to produce innovation, simply because they are likely to stick to the approaches they already know and are familiar with. We encourage the CEC groups to use co-design to harness the knowledge and creativity of 'everyday people' in their communities to generate solutions.
Aim for a flat, rather than heirarchical structure Our CEC groups are necessarily flat structured - mostly because they don't have the resources to employ lots of people and establish a giant heirarchy. As Mia Bunge points out, this is to their advantage, as having strong leaders and an entrenched heirarchy can be incredibly narrowing for any innovation culture.
Have a good grasp of what it is you are trying to change Before joining CEC, our groups need to show they understand what effective community engagement looks like (or have experience in engaging whanau and communities) and seek out data or evidence that helps them understand the situation/s they are dealing with.
Start thinking at a systems level Our CEC groups form an (important) part of a bigger picture in their community. They are not one-off, isolated projects but instead interact and collaborate with other partners, projects and communities who are also tackling children's disadvantage. Click here for a fun 3 min youtube clip on the importance of systems thinking.
Have a "to do" philosophy. Get ideas out of heads and into a testing, prototyping and implementing cycle. We encourage our groups to use a design thinking process of test/iterate/ideate/test/iterate/ideate (and repeat!).
Disruption sounds a bit hairy - but once you get into the nuts and bolts it really isn't that tricky. And we promise that none of our change agents are harmed in the process!
Nadine Metzger provides evaluation support for the CEC project.
Strengthening the ‘voice’ of the community in education has the potential to lift achievement levels, particularly for those currently not well served by the education system.
When we look at the big picture, we see that in international comparisons, the NZ education system is characterised as generally high performing. Look slightly deeper, however, and we see a large minority of children, most who are disproportionately from poor, Māori or Pasifika families, who experience significant disparity of achievement within the system. What do we mean by “significant disparity of achievement?” Well - according to a February 2016 report from the OECD, it means the poorest 25 per cent of our students are more than six times more likely to perform poorly in maths than those from the richest 25 percent.
The NZ education system is strong on treating people equally. Education is compulsory, everyone has reasonable access, we have national formulas for the size and quality of facilities and national staffing ratios. Everyone is entitled to the same ‘dose‘ of education. What the research shows is that our system is not strong on equity. This means the outcomes from our system are very different for different groups of people. Our system does not work for everyone and there appears to be a deepening socio-economic divide in our schooling system, where well off kids are far more likely to do well at school than are poor kids. For more on this crisis in school achievement, see the New Zealand Herald’s Political roundup on our unequal education system.
To start to address inequity we look first at the spread of achievement within the school then whether the school is providing the support to those who need it most. This ‘analysis of variance’ that all schools should be doing is a powerful tool for reducing inequity, provided schools then respond by investing in extra support for those who need it. Unfortunately, this is often difficult and can be costly. An equitable school community would have to place a high value on shifting resources to those who need it most. As a result of shifting these resources, often some other students will not get everything they want. Most schools struggle to manage the local dynamics that result from this type of decision-making.
The rationale underpinning the NZ system of school governance is that local boards of trustees and school principals will make better resource distribution decisions than a central authority. The local team will be in a better position to respond to local needs and allocate resources to where they are needed. The Government does this roughly with the school decile funding system and the assumption is that then school communities will make finer grained distributions locally. But nearly 30 years after “Tomorrow’s Schools” and the introduction of boards of trustees, many of our school students are still underachieving. This suggests our school communities are not very good at being able to re-allocate the necessary resources.
Education success does not just rely on the distribution of resources. Apart from the in-school factors, we know that education success is related to parents’ (particularly mothers’) level of education. This seems to stem from parents having had some success in education and then expecting their children to have the same or better. These parents also know how to support their children to engage with learning and meet that expectation. They feel confident when dealing with their children’s schools. When that confidence, expectation and support is shared across a community it acts as a powerful expectation on the performance of the school. These parents are also likely to be strong advocates ensuring that their children get their share of the school resources.
We have a system that favours strong, educated and assertive families and communities. This explanation behind education success also, in my view, explains why our system is low on equity.
The Connecting Education and Communities Project is trying to build that same level of expectation and support for families who are most likely to have low education levels, low expectations of what school can offer and low skills in negotiating the school system. We want to strengthen the community voice in schools when the distribution of resources is being decided so that all our children have equitable access to resources. We want to assist the creation of a self-reinforcing system that builds both the expectations and the skills of the people in our school communities. Ultimately, what we want to do is build expectation and capability across the whole community.
Will it work? Our experience suggests that building CEC at a community level is the most effective for sustained change. As always, there is lots to learn along the way, which we will share as we go along through our website and this blog.
*Author: Jim Matheson is the CEC project leader.
My role is to work with communities on strengthening their engagement in education. This often means helping communities build consensus on overall goals. This includes help with aligning of activities, developing advocacy services and facilitating effective working relationships between the community and its education institutions. I am an education consultant whose work focusses on improving education for all. I work with communities, education institutions and governments in New Zealand and the Pacific on analysing education performance and developing workable solutions for improvement.
The trickiest thing about education is that it is complicated. That’s also why I enjoy it - I like the mess!!!