(Is There) Life After Assessment...?
[Editor's Note: The following article first appeared in the National Endowment for the Arts' ADVANCEMENT BULLETIN, January 1996.]
Very few of us who work in the arts would be caught saying out loud that we don't believe in assessing, reflecting and evaluating. But we all know that this noble trio represents work, work and more work. And -- at least some of the time -- we may not be absolutely, positively convinced that it's all worth it. If what we really want to be doing is getting a show open (or hanging an exhibition or publishing a book or producing a documentary) what difference will it make if we spend a hundred hours contemplating organizational culture, structure or function?
Well here's the bad news: It could be a waste of time. In fact it will be a waste of time to do your organizational assessment --- unless assessment leads to change and improvement.
Assessment as an end in itself can easily become little more than an exercise. But assessment that is immediately linked to action can have surprising, positive and exciting results for the organization as well as for the people working with it and affected by it. Here are four briefly described scenarios for life after assessment.
Often an organization's leaders will be uncomfortable and not know why. They'll feel that their group is not as effective or successful as it ought to be. And, they may not know where their efforts are best placed. In some cases, excellent, skilled people are lost to an organization because they're just not clear about how they fit and how they can make a difference.
The completion of a thorough-going assessment almost always yields a range of ideas about changes or improvements that are possible and needed. The simplest and quickest way to energize a post-assessment organization is to immediately turn the issues identified in the assessment into action. One effective strategy is to use the vehicle of Board/staff task forces set up for limited times to address specific issues or areas. Each of these task forces should have a workplan and time line and then just get on with the business of making things happen.
It takes time to make change. It also often takes money. There are funders who understand the relationship between a strong organization and its ability to pursue its mission. For these funders, an assessment report can serve as the basis of a proposal for funds to address specific issues that emerged in the assessment. For example, a funder may be eager to support staff development and training in the area of financial management or they might have a particular interest in market research and marketing planning. The fact that a thorough assessment precedes a specific request adds credibility to the proposal and shows clearly how it is linked to the organization's work to improve itself and its capacity.
We all like to join a winning team. A group that knows itself well - its strengths and its weaknesses - is better able to identify the skills and capabilities it needs in volunteers, Board members, donors and other supporters. An objective assessment that identifies a need for increased skills in financial management points the way for recruitment of an accountant. Or, the assessment might point the way to the need for an Advisory Board or fundraising auxiliary. With assessment as a guide, new people can be identified and recruited to help the organization move to the next level.
Last and perhaps most common, an assessment is an excellent prelude to a full-blown strategic planning process. It is more than helpful to know what your strengths and challenges are when developing a vision and goals for the future. Plans that are developed following assessments have the advantage of being grounded in the real capabilities of an organization.
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