The Fund for Shared Insight is a new collaborative effort of seven foundations coming together to back "feedback loops" to improve the social sector. The idea is that nonprofits need to do a better job of listening to the people they serve and incorporating that feedback into their operations. Corporations vacuum up feedback from their customers all the time to improve performance—"please stay on the line to take a short survey"—but the nonprofit sector has been slow to adopt these practices. Shared Insight hopes to get the ball rolling in a big way.
One focus of this initiative is foster care. With a grant of $358,000 over three years to study foster youth in transition to adulthood, Shared Insight is investing in a project that will gather feedback in the form of personal interviews with foster youth who, in effect, have been the "customers" of California's foster care system, which is operated by nonprofit organizations. The group carrying out the study, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a policy research outfit focused on children and families, will be following about 800 youth aged 18 and in need of continuing service.
You can bet that if any of these kids had taken a flight on a major airline, they would have already been pestered with an email asking them to rate their flight experience. Given the stakes of foster care, it's high time to hear more feedback from those going through these systems.
Especially right now, in California. The state is serving as the testing ground for the Fostering Connections Act of 2008, which allows states the option to get federal reimbursement for continuing care of foster youth to age 21. The study began in 2012 and will run until 2017, so Shared Insight is stepping in during the middle to help collect potentially critical insights.
The study also involves a survey of caseworkers to learn about their perceptions of youth in their care. This part of the survey is gathering data about issues like how motivated a youth appears to be to stay in care, how often substance abuse appeared to be a factor, and how often kids appeared to have safety issues.
The research findings from the caseworker survey are available in this handy (and long!) video. I checked it out and learned some new things about foster youth in this age range—mainly that a large percentage of kids in the study are pursuing higher education but their caseworkers worry that they are ill-prepared for college and will need lots of support; that about a third of foster children in the study are diagnosed with a mental health problem, and that their living arrangements vary widely from a tiny sliver of foster-to-adopt situations and, as you would expect, a large number living in foster homes of varying types.
Shared Insight gives grants in different categories. The grant to Chapin Hill is through the "research" category which aims to "advance the research base on integrating feedback from the people we seek to help such that it can better serve funders and practitioners including identifying ways feedback can best be collected and identifying of leading indicators of change."
It will be interesting to see what this study tells us about foster care—as well as how to build "feedback loops."