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Research and Evaluation Task Force

March 27, 2020

The task force convened by skype at 1pm. 

PRESENT: Nate Hinchey, Anne Ostberg, Michael Ashmore, Dr. Brenda Zollitsch (guest presenter) 

After introductions, Michael explained the history of the task force in response to a question from the newest member, Anne Ostberg. 

Brenda Zollitsch was attending in order to brief the task force members on the assessment she’s been contracted to do. Her focus is on former AmeriCorps grantees and the factors that influenced their AmeriCorps success. Dr. Zollitsch discussed the approach she is taking to the evaluation, the research design, and some very preliminary findings or observations.  Among her observations of factors are the current practices for providing training to new grantees; the probable need for more on-site technical assistance; increasing face-to-face meetings prior to a competition to set realistic expectations; and pre-award in-person meetings. 

So far, former grantees seem to have experienced a cascading effect of knowing something is going wrong but not reporting or not coping with the problem. The issue gets so “big” it can’t be fixed. The smaller programs also need more templates rather than being taught how to write their own from scratch. Some organizations do not have the human resource structures in place due to their size. Bringing on AmeriCorps members highlights that lack of structure. Another stressor is the short timeframe between award and AmeriCorps members’ service start. The “runway” isn’t long enough. The organizations interviewed expressed dismay that AmeriCorps is not scalable on the administrative side. Small programs with 2-5 members are expected to do the same things as larger programs. 

Anne noted that awarding AmeriCorps grants to small grassroots is not common across commissions.  This is a good strategy and great that the Commission is trying to improve its performance in supporting these small organizations.  

Nate said he is looking forward to the final findings, especially about application process.  He inquired if it is possible to look at unsuccessful applicants as well.  Michael noted small sample size reflects the number of grantees and that most of the organizations that were unsuccessful fell in two categories: they did not submit or their application did not provide the information requested. 

After thanking Brenda for her briefing, Michael shared an update on the civic health report project. It cannot be done until late fall through winter. US Census is short staffed in this time of doing the decennial census. Consequently, the process of cleaning as well as validating the civic health data collected in fall 2019 to put it in systems academics use. Simultaneously, the last remaining CNCS data analyst left for another job and CNCS has no capacity to help Census OR analyze the data. So, the project has to wait for Fall when Census anticipates making the data available to researchers. The upside – gives us time to get past the current emergency in which potential funding partners are refocusing their giving.

 Task force mission. Members discussed the outline of commission responsibilities and the best wording to express that work in a mission statement. Nate offered to draft something concise for consideration by the full board. 

There being no other issues to discuss, the task force work session ended at 1:58 pm.

[Post meeting addition: Draft options from Nate are below.

Revised Version 1:  
The Research and Evaluation Task Force:  
- Identifies issues related to Maine’s volunteer sector and Commission grantees that require additional research.
- Collects and analyzes data on volunteerism and civic engagement.
- Develops and oversees research and evaluation projects to address key issues.

Revised Version 2:  
The Research and Evaluation Task Force aims to strengthen Maine’s volunteer sector and enhance the work of Commission grantees by identifying issues that require research, collecting and analyzing relevant data, and developing and overseeing projects that help address these issues.]