Transparency Talk

Category: "Education" (14 posts)

Glasspockets Find: The Lumina Foundation's Annual Report
July 23, 2014

(Eliza Smith is the Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511bd210d970cThe Lumina Foundation, an educational achievement-focused philanthropy, has set an ambitious goal: they want to leverage their "outcomes-based approach" to increase "the proportion of Americans with high quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025."

Thanks to the clarity and specificity of the goal, as I read through the Foundation's annual report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, I started to see Goal 2025 as a truly achievable milestone. The Foundation has been issuing Stronger Nation since 2009. While it presents a great number of statistics, it's surprisingly accessible. This is due in great part to its design:  which manages to be data-rich yet still retain a feeling of accessibility and flow.  

The Foundation has been issuing Stronger Nation since 2009. While it presents a great number of statistics, it's surprisingly accessible. This is due in great part to its design:  which manages to be data-rich yet still retain a feeling of accessibility and flow.

Rather than begin with a letter from leadership, the introduction begins with a compelling graphic "tracking the trend" of the rising percentage of the population that has earned at least an associate's degree. The graphic charts the upswing here, rising from  37.9 percent of the population that met this achievement level in 2008  to 2012, with 39.4 percent of the population  attaining a degree. Yes, the increments are small, but the increase each year is constant and encouraging.

Lumina-report-2014-07
Read the report»
What may be most helpful to those interested in regional trends and community needs is that the report then outlines each state's progress in the area of higher education attainment. There is a summary, followed by  graphics that demonstrate the state's progress towards Goal 2025. Pie charts offer percentages of the population with educational levels ranging from "less than ninth grade" to "graduate or professional degree." There's a breakdown of these statistics across specific population groups.. There's also a graph illustrating the path to Goal 2025 attainment. They even breakdown degree achievement by county. Everything is clear, concise, and quite convincing.

Yes, Goal 2025 is ambitious. But the Lumina Foundation is demonstrating a commitment to transparency practices by openly sharing the progress of its goal, as well as its obstacles, incremental achievements, and  next steps. Lumina's annual report is the gateway to understanding how they intend to achieve Goal 2025 and provides a framework for others to consider when grappling with how to measure progress toward philanthropic goals.​

-- Eliza Smith

Glasspockets Find: MacArthur Foundation Videos Illuminate Program Strategies
September 18, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

We all can't be experts in every field—but we can communicate in ways that makes our intentions clear. Let's say you hear that a foundation is interested in the same issue your work is addressing: girls' education. But girls' education could refer to subsidizing pre-kindergarten in the U.S., awarding college scholarships for young African women, researching improved STEM education, or any number of other programs. The trick to understanding a foundation's goals is to get down to the specifics, without getting lost in a morass of jargon or hours of research.

The MacArthur Foundation is experimenting with using video to explain their program strategies, including Investing in Girl's Secondary Education in Developing Countries. In this four-minute video we are given an explanation of the program goals, why the foundation has chosen to concentrate on this specific need, and the larger global initiatives that tie in to their program strategy:

Watch the video»

A strength of video as a communications tool is that the visuals illustrate the foundation’s values, bringing their program goals to life. Another virtue is that the delivery of the information is usually a personal narration told in straightforward language. We all have read our share of foundation strategy documents that seem written only for specialists. On camera, people are less likely to speak in academic lingo—making it is easier for the program staff to convey their passion for the issue, and thus easier for those on the outside to see and understand what is going on inside foundation portfolios.

In this MacArthur Foundation video, Jorgen Thomsen, Director of the Conservation & Sustainable Development program, explains what excites him about their current strategy and how it builds on and diverges from previous areas of focus:

Watch the video»

Which foundations have excelled at producing videos that illuminate their specific program goals? Let us know at glasspockets@foundationcenter.org.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: 2013 Annual Letter from Bill Gates
February 12, 2013

Gates Foundation Annual Letter

In previous annual letters, Bill Gates has highlighted the power of innovation to reduce global hunger, poverty and disease, and improved educational outcomes in the U.S.  In the fifth Annual Letter from Bill Gates, he notes that any innovation will fall short if it cannot reach the people who will benefit from it.  That’s why he shifts his attention this year to examine how innovations in measurement are essential to discover better ways to deliver the solutions that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seeks to push forward.

“You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal…”

Throughout the letter, Gates provides examples from the foundation’s experience that may inspire others to think critically and honestly about choosing the proper measurement to better gauge whether progress is happening—and, if not, what adjustments might make sense.  In northern Nigeria, he describes how digital technology has vastly improved the ability to map the distances between villages so that polio vaccine can more effectively be distributed to children at risk for the disease.

In Ethiopia, well-stocked health clinics have been set up in the vast rural stretches where most of the people live, enabling, among other successes, a significant reduction in the rate of child mortality and an increase in vaccination coverage.  Unlike ten years ago when it was unusual to document a child’s birth or death in rural Ethiopia, today there are much better official records that provide data to track progress and allow for adjustments to be made in order to address remaining—or new—needs.

In Colorado, the foundation initiated a project in 2009 to better understand how to build an evaluation and feedback mechanism to help teachers improve.  Final results of this project were announced last month, concluding that there are “observable, repeatable, and verifiable ways of measuring teacher effectiveness.”  The lessons learned may be used to improve teacher education which may open doors to re-creating a much more effective education system in this country.

Gates, in closing, expresses an overall sense of optimism, but shares two challenges that most concern him for accelerating progress over the next 15 years: the possibility that sufficient funds will not materialize for essential global health and development projects and that agreement will prove elusive in identifying clear goals to help the world’s poorest.

The 2013 Annual Letter from Bill Gates serves as a reminder to us all of both the importance of measurement and the challenge of determining the right things to measure to make transparent the difference we are making in the world.

To read or download the letter, click here.

 -- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Lumina Illuminates Its Own Strategic Planning Process
January 16, 2013

Lumina Foundation

Four years ago, Lumina Foundation launched its first four-year strategic plan based on Goal 2025. The goal was to make it possible for 60 percent of Americans to obtain a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2025, to produce the skills set that the nation would demand for a vibrant 21st century economy. Four years on, Lumina has just released its 2013-2016 Strategic Plan.

Transparency is a concept that works best when the benefits are (at least) two-directional. Lumina Foundation is well aware that it cannot achieve Goal 2025 on its own. It can, however, serve as a catalyst for action. Its new strategic plan reflects key lessons learned over the past four years and defines two primary imperatives: mobilizing to reach Goal 2025 and designing and building a 21st century higher education system. At current rates, the nation will fall 23 million degrees and credentials short of Goal 2025. The new plan includes strategies to jumpstart access and success in education beyond high school by focusing on critical segments of society and by engaging key stakeholders including employers, institutions of higher education, and local, state, and federal policymakers.

Mobilizing to Reach Goal 2025

Explore Lumina Foundation's strategic plan»

With a series of short video clips that can be easily shared via social media, Lumina breathes life into what might otherwise be just another routine strategic plan. By taking a periodic evaluation of progress made and plans for next steps - and publicly sharing this information in a compelling manner - the foundation is encouraging its partners, and potential partners, to keep up the good fight and better positioning itself for ultimate success.

A three-page executive summary of the 2013-2016 Strategic Plan is now available. The full plan will be available to download in the coming weeks.

Do you know of examples you’d like to share that illustrate how transparency can help achieve strategic goals?

 -- Mark Foley

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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