I believe that in many aspects of life, a kind of pendulum effect exists. This effect describes the way in which people’s opinions tend to swing back and forth around reality. Rather than reflecting reality, people’s views vacillate in an arc around true reality. This creates a kind of boom/bust scenario that is very evident in the stock market (dot com stocks will make me rich! Ahh! Dot com stocks are poison!), but also shows up in politics, educations, pop culture, etc. I ran across a well put description this morning on Yahoo Answers:
I think the idea is that: somebody gets a good idea, and then a whole lot of people 1/2 understand it, and make it absolute, taking it to an extreme. Until somebody discovers “another” great idea, (the way things were originally done), and everybody jumps on that runaway train to hell.
The lesson: Moderation. A little common sense goes a long way. Don’t just “swing with the pendulum” of fashion in teaching/learning methods.
I think that there is a strong pendulum effect in philanthropy. I see it at work when we talk about metrics, evaluation, “philanthrocapitalism”, venture philanthropy, etc. Today I want to share with you an excellent article in the Financial Times by Gara LaMarche, the president of The Atlantic Philanthropies. I think LaMarche describes well the way in which approaches to evaluation have “swung too far” and his recommendations for a middle ground makes a ton of sense.
The philanthropic world, poked and prodded by a wave of new donors fresh from success in the business world, is grappling with the issue of evaluation. How do we know that grants – or, as they are now often called, reflecting the influence of the profit-making sector, “investments” – are making an impact?…
…Evaluation is a learning tool for the organisation and the funder, not a stick with which to beat grantees.
…Doing this correctly takes money… Funders should recognise and support their grantees in their efforts to learn what works.
…Evaluation should measure only what is important. Data should never be collected for the sake of it. The “metrics” obsession that has overtaken some funders has not always recognised this. Funders should never make grantees jump through hoops, distracting them from their core mission and costing valuable staff time, for reporting on trivial things. And there is nothing more demoralising, from the grantee’s perspective, than doing all this paperwork only to have it ignored.
…Both funders and the organisations they support need more humility about cause and effect. Organisations working for social or policy change should understand that no significant change was brought about by one organisation working alone.
…Finally, the most important thing: start with what you believe. If you have a passion about ending the death penalty or the isolation of older people – whatever it is – find a way to advance it first and worry about how to measure it second.
You can read the full, excellent article here.