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Data that reflects progress
November 24, 2014

By Thomas Hart | I recently attended a seminar on culturally competent program evaluation methods and wanted to share some of my reflections. This statement by a keynote speaker really got me thinking:

“What I wanted to find out, I can’t fit into traditional western academic thinking. So, I invented a new one; not focused on deficit thinking—what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed—but instead looking at what works, what supports success.”

–Dr. Rosemary White Shield

Most of my day on the job here is spent thinking about what’s wrong. In essence, Beacon’s mission is to provide a home for all those who lack one. That mission is focused on fixing a deficit. And often I do focus on data and numbers and goals; outcomes and logic models, dollars and cents. Because that is how I have been taught to wrap my mind around progress.

But it isn’t the only way.

The distance between where we’re at and where our goal puts us isn’t just a deficit, it’s also an opportunity. Fixing the problem is not simply about building enough buildings. There’s a reason we talk about “home” instead of “apartments” for all. Because home is more than the materials used in construction. Each of us builds a home with intangibles like nurture, peacefulness and memories.  

Though we can’t quantify how many good memories a family has built in our housing, or how much more peacefulness has entered their lives now that they have a home, we can be reminded to slow down and allow the important stories to be shared. Dr. White Shield summed it up this way: “All you have to do is ask, but you have to ask in the right way.”

In the long run, engaging residents in a way that values their culture and allows for them to better express themselves in familiar ways will generate more complete data and, thus, allow us to do our jobs better. A very numbers-driven result of a very non-numbers approach.  

Thomas Hart
Thom is Beacon's service development project manager. Follow him on Twitter @hart_thom -- and while you're at it, why not follow Beacon @BelieveInHome too?