This spring a cross-sector team from Story County (IA) attended a second on-site institute to support strategic analysis and planning as their campaign expanded from a community-wide literacy campaign to a countywide initiative. Read reflections from the United Way of Story County’s President and CEO Jean Kresse, and Story County Reads’ Coordinator Malai Amfahr on their steadfast commitment to continuous improvement and their double-dose Lectio experience to support this expansion.
What challenges were you facing prior to your first Lectio Institute?
JEAN: In our Ames Reads’ [community-wide] campaign, we thought we had a fairly good handle on what programs were happening in the community and those that were connected to our campaign goals. However, we didn’t have a good understanding of the gaps that were happening, particularly in regards to how our programs added up to make a measurable boost for our children and families. In addition, many promising programs claimed to impact summer learning, attendance, and school readiness, but we weren’t sure that was true—and we didn’t have a way to find out.
What about the Lectio approach resonated with you, and specifically applied to your campaign’s work?
JEAN: Having an approach to map the services in our community—around impact—was critical. It helped Ames Reads really understand what programs existed in our community and what we should realistically expect from each program—how our investments were actually going to lead (or not lead) to our campaign goals.
The Program Design Evaluation Tool (PDET) was key in supporting this program understanding and map; it helped us better understand the elements of each program, making it clear to us how and why these programs will (or won’t) make an impact. It also helped us see that understanding the purpose each program serves—from awareness-raising to behavior-changing—makes a difference as well. And importantly, the PDET guided our team to all look at the campaign programs collectively through the same lens—without bias.
With the Lectio approach at hand, we even began brainstorming and analyzing programs that weren’t under the Ames Reads’ umbrella.
What initial changes did you make as a result of the Lectio approach?
JEAN: The approach helped us to see how investing more resources in programs designed to only build community awareness wasn’t the best idea. It also changed the way we promoted a program—a summer reading incentive project. This program was marketed to prevent summer learning loss. When applying the Lectio Approach, it showed us that the program’s design and measured results didn’t match the program’s said “goal” of summer learning loss. We brainstormed as to what, if anything, could be done to improve the program so that it would impact summer learning loss. It was determined that it was a program solely to raise awareness around summer learning’s importance and nothing more, and when considering the resources invested, we determined this was alright. The program didn’t need to change—we just needed to reframe our messaging, our overall expectations, and campaign plan to reflect this realization.
How are you applying the approach in your continued efforts?
JEAN: Our campaign is working harder to get the data needed to determine whether our summer programs designed to impact summer learning loss are in fact changing children’s behaviors and skills. We are getting there, but we’re not quite there yet. Once gathering this data, it will help us determine what program changes we may need to make, if any. There are a lot of community resources going into these summer learning efforts, so we want to be sure we are investing wisely!
We are also using the Lectio approach in our campaign’s countywide expansion, which Malai will share in more detail!
What challenges were you facing prior to the second Lectio Institute?
MALAI: This year our campaign is expanding from a community-specific initiative [Ames Reads] to a countywide campaign [Story County Reads]; we are now working to support and impact all of Story County’s youth, birth to age 8. Prior to this year’s Lectio institute (and with this shift underway), we were aiming to target some of the current challenges experienced within our community campaign as well as foresee and anticipate the upcoming challenges that might come with our initiative’s growth.
In our community coalition, we experienced some symptoms of “program fatigue”. We were continuing to develop too many programs even though outcomes were not being met. We also struggled with understanding how each campaign partner’s programs were evaluated and how each of those measures led to our overall campaign goals.
As we strategically plan our initiative expansion, we were grappling with the challenge to truly understand and serve our rural communities—understanding the program landscape as well as the population’s specific strengths and needs. And we were also trying to identify the ways the coalition needed to change with this expansion—working to influence our big picture goal of impacting all of Story County’s youth, while also maintaining the identities of the individual organizations and programs who have played a key role in our Ames Reads’ campaign.
What about the Lectio approach resonated with you, and specifically applied to the expansion of your campaign’s work?
MALAI: Similar to Jean, the introduced methodology of examining a program’s design and understanding all of the elements that influence a program’s realistic impact was critical. This has greatly helped in building our leadership team’s knowledge of how each program is individually impacting the overall campaign goals as well as how the programs collectively lead to our intended outcomes—allowing for a sharper understanding of each program’s contribution and purpose to the greater programmatic landscape.
Also, a real “lightbulb” moment emerged when engaging in the impact analysis and charting our specific programs by design and realistic impact—from programs serving an awareness-raising function to behavior-changing function. As we look at the bigger picture of our countywide campaign programming achieving its outcomes, this analysis and charting will be key.
What kind of changes have you and your team made as a result of the Lectio approach? How are you using the approach in your expansion efforts?
MALAI: Our leadership team is going through a strategic planning process to redefine our county campaign’s overarching goals, strategies, and measures. Guided by the Lectio approach and our institute findings, we’ve adopted an ambitious timeline to support this strategic planning process—to really move forward on infrastructure changes, communication efforts, program evaluation, and program coordination for the anticipated campaign expansion.
This includes outlining a process for using consistent messaging about the Story County Reads’ collaboration—what it is (our “elevator speech”), the overall plan, and the roles that each of our partners plays in the overall initiative collaboration. It also includes continued program and initiative evaluation; using the Lectio tools, we’ll continue evaluating those county-based programs that haven’t yet been analyzed, and as Jean mentioned, we will also review all of the summer literacy programs within our campaign’s initiative. And importantly, the institute triggered our review of ways to evaluate the overall Story County Reads’ campaign.