WHY METRICS? (with Julie Thomas)

We at Polis Institute recently partnered with Orlando Nonprofit Alliance (ONA) to lead a workshop on “Harnessing the Power of Metrics.” The purpose will be to help nonprofit organizations understand why and how to use metrics to improve their work. Julie Thomas, MNM Data and Reporting Analysis Consultant for Polis, will moderate the June 28th, 2019 workshop, hosted by Nova Southeastern University.

Thomas has spent over 15 years working in education, healthcare, and nonprofits. She was a teacher in Indianapolis before relocating to Orlando in 2006 where she held various positions with Advent Health. In her roles, she has served as an internal consultant to hospital leaders, where she assisted them with understanding departmental and organizational data points, as well as applying best practices to improve the experience of their patients, employees, and overall performance of their department. Julie also managed the new employee onboarding program. Her contribution led to improve patient experience, employee engagement, and employee retention.

In this interview, Julie Thomas shares her expertise on how to effectively use metrics in the nonprofit industry for successful outcomes.

Why is it important to create and maintain clear metrics?

I’ve spent the last week watching landscapers tear up my backyard, lay pavers, and build a retaining wall. It was fascinating watching them place the pavers together brick by brick in an intricate pattern that fit perfectly in the footprint of the new patio. I know that this was not by accident or luck. The workman spent a lot of time measuring and grading the space before they even laid the first brick. And afterwards, they measured again to ensure that it was level and the size and shape that we requested.

Could you imagine what would have happened if the landscapers would have just started to lay down the first pavers wherever they thought it should go, without a single measurement? Very likely we would have ended up with a crooked patio. Or the workman would have had to restart over and over and over again when they realized that the bricks weren’t lining up, wasting a lot of valuable time and energy. But so often we see organizations do something similar. They may start programs with good intentions and deploy activities without first determining what success looks like and how to evaluate their progress toward that successful outcome.

The work and effort that this team of landscapers put into preparing for the project by planning their measurements and then making adjustments during the installation and afterwards resulted in a beautiful new patio that my family can enjoy. In the same way, it’s important that organizations use data and measurement to plan for their activities and programs then evaluate as they go, so that the execution of their strategy is not done haphazardly.

How does one begin to build out meaningful metrics for their organization?

First, organizations need to determine what change they are trying to make and how their activities affect that change.  If we do X, then Y will happen. Take, for example, the desired change of improving educational outcomes for 3rd grade students who aren’t reading at grade level. One “If/Then” statement could be: IF we provide weekly, one-on-one tutoring for students in reading, THEN their reading comprehension will improve.

If tutoring is the activity that you will utilize to create the desired change, you then can build out the measurements you need for the program, which include inputs (e.g. program budget, staff or volunteer hours, curriculum development), outputs (e.g. the number of students tutored or hours of tutoring), and outcomes (e.g. student test score). Goals or targets can be set for each of these items.

How do you go about measuring impact?

Impact is trickier to measure because oftentimes it may take months or even years to see. In our tutoring example, the impact in educational outcomes might not be observable until the 3rd grader graduates from high school or college, or finds fulfilling employment. While 3rd grade reading levels are certainly important, the long-term goal may be that the students experience vocational and economic stability as adults. It is possible to measure for the long-term impact by following up with your program’s clients after they complete the program. However, you can also work backward and consider what short-term outcomes you expect to see as a result of your program or activities and plan how to measure for those.

What are the best ways for an organization to utilize metrics once they’ve been established?

Have a plan! It’s much easier and more effective to plan for measurement and evaluation before the program begins. After you determine what you are going to measure (i.e. inputs, outputs, and outcomes), then focus on the details, such as how it will be measured, by whom, how often, etc. And importantly, plan for how the data will be reviewed by the organization to ensure that the program goals are on track and adjustments can be made as needed.

Just like my landscapers had a plan for building a patio, organizations need to incorporate measurement and evaluation when planning for and executing their programs. It is an essential part of strategic thinking and crucial for successful outcomes.



Businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, and social enterprises. While different in structure, these institutions and the leaders behind them share an essential belief — society needs truly effective high impact change that moves the needle on critical issues like health equity, poverty reduction, and educational justice.

For more than a decade, dedicated people from many different such types of institutions have been creating localized eco-systems of change. These ecosystems are known as ‘collective impact models.’ Originating in North Carolina and popularized by the work of authors in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, collective impact has rightfully gained traction as the most viable model for genuinely effective change that makes real differences in communities.

In this article we’ll take a look at some of the best measured examples of collective impact and get insight into the power of the Collective Impact model to bring about shifts in community wide outcomes.

The StrivePartnership educational initiative in Cincinnati is an example that portrays the influence collective impact can have on a community. This initiative, established in 2006, aimed to address and improve the educational system in Cincinnati, Ohio and Northern Kentucky by helping students accel in their academic journey at every stage of their life – “from cradle to career”.

They utilized the model successfully by bringing together over 300 local community leaders and organizations from different sectors who believed in the importance of education to better understand the needs of the community they lived in. All participants agreed to collaborate with each other through a well-structured process to measure and ensure student progress, while also learning and supporting each other. They understood that an individual leader or organization, however successful, cannot accomplish this goal by oneself. This partnership directly lead to major improvements in the educational system of that region.  The region saw a significant increase in graduate rates, students GPA, and even child readiness leading into kindergarten.

As of today, StrivePartnership still shows an ongoing improvement of student success based on the shared key performance indicators. They continually aspire to enhance the well-being of the community through education. In their mission to strengthen the educational system in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, they are now focusing on ensuring racial and economic equity. Due to the success of StrivePartnership and their use of the collective impact model, a few leaders from StriveParnership established StriveTogether Cradle-to-Career Network in hopes of replicating this initiative in other communities nationwide. Their journey of improving the education system in America has a strong foundation with the use of this model laying at its core.

Collective Impact has also been successfully used in initiatives aimed to alleviate poverty. Tamarack Institute partnered with J. W. McConnell Family Foundation and Caledon Institute of Social Policy to establish Vibrant Communities in 2002. They worked with 13 trail builders cities and community leaders for ten years with the common goal to reduce poverty in Canada. The first year was dedicated to learn about the community’s needs related to poverty and engage the population to think about ways to eradicate poverty. Specific strategies for each community were built based on the knowledge gained that first year. These strategies primarily involved a multi-sector network of local leaders, non-profits, and businesses who work together with a well-structured methodology to improve different areas of poverty that affects  education, employment, and overall health among many others.

The co-founder of Tamarack Institute, Paul Born, felt that one of the most pivotal successes of this initiative came from empowering individuals to believe in their own ability to truly make an impact in alleviating poverty. During a 10 year span, Vibrant Communities led to a poverty reduction of 10% in several communities that impacted over 200,000 low income Canadians.

This success can be explained by an understanding from all partners to address poverty through better systems that can have a lasting impact on a population level. Due to the success of Vibrant Cities, Cities Reducing Poverty was created in 2012 as a movement to replicate the collective impact model used by Vibrant Communities in other cities and communities. Over the years, Cities Reducing Poverty has developed poverty alleviation strategies that over 175 cities are now successfully using to collectively work towards reducing poverty in their communities. Tamarack Institute shares case studies and helpful resources on collective impact on their website if you are interested to know more or to use a collective impact model in your community.

These initiatives share the five core conditions of Collective Impact: common agenda, a continuous communication, a shared measurement system, mutually reinforcing activities, and a backbone function. Although Collective Impact might not be the only way to resolve social issues, these five core conditions has proved to be powerful in addressing complex social problems to bring about social change on a large scale.

To learn more about collective impact, check out these wonderful resources:
Foundation Strategy Group (FSG)
Collective Impact (Stanford Social Innovation Review – SSIR)
Does Collective Impact really make an impact? (SSIR)
Tamarack Institute



Oftentimes, multiple organizations work in isolation to address problems. Collective impact brings people together, typically from different sectors, and applies a structured approach to solving complex social problems. It is more than just collaboration. It is a unified plan and vision with shared accountability across all the participants. There are five core conditions of Collective Impact.

Common Agenda
All participants have a shared vision, common understanding of the problem, aligned strategies for addressing the problem, and mutually-agreed-upon objectives and goals.

Shared Measurement System
Progress is measured with agreed-upon indicators that are shared among the partners

Continuous Communication
Transparent and continual communication exists among all the groups. This is essential to remain focused on the problem and build trust between the partners

Mutually-Reinforcing Activities
While each partner may be focused on a different aspect of the problem, efforts are coordinated to avoid duplication and encourage efficiency and collaboration.

Backbone Function
A dedicated team focuses on coordinating the partners and managing the Collective Impact components.

In a Collective Impact model, high priority is placed on equity, continual learning, and a culture that promotes relationship, trust, and respect.


The Power of Stories

We all have our own stories that shape the way we are, the way we think, the way we behave, and the way we live our lives. Every chapter of our lives shapes the people we are and the people we will become. And each of our own journeys is meaningful regardless of our background—worth sharing and being listened to.

The very practice of this story interchange facilitates greater understanding of each other, the problems we’re facing, and begins the process of identifying possible solutions to seeking restoration between us, in our community, and for the city as a whole.

Stories Help Us Understand One Another

On a more concrete level, these stories allow people to know others’ background. They motivate people to understand why one would think, behave, and live the way they do. In a world full of cultural and racial differences — we want to be known, heard, and understood because we want to be valued. However, we tend to forget to listen and understand. We rob people of their dignity when we form our view of them with incomplete and inaccurate understanding of their true identities—which we obviously don’t want. To hear and to listen to people different than us not only increases our understanding of them but also validates their dignity. We should share our story recognizing its potential impact on people but most importantly we should learn to listen to seek understanding rather than to form judgment.

Stories Assist Us In Understanding the Issues We’re Facing

Another way they help a lot is how they can capture some of the important lessons in history to address critical social issues, – including racism, which is still prevalent in today’s society. History has shown us times and times again that several horrors of the past occurred because of false judgments between races, and our personal stories can also illustrate that. Without the stories shared in the past and the present, we would have not known the brutality misunderstanding and misconceptions can bring to the society. We can learn from our past and current situation that forming prejudices and perceptions of people who are different than us can create great division among individuals, groups or countries. Where we were born and who we are born to can have a great influence on the trajectory of our future and these differences in backgrounds that define our identity and our beliefs will affect the way we view others and the way we treat others. As we reflect on history and our own stories on racial relations, we are to address the sad reality in our century, and work to destroy this picture of a “us-and-them” relationship and instead build a “us” relationship.

Stories Help Identify Possible Solutions to Our Issues

Our stories, made of trials and victories, not only reflect our brokenness and our imperfections but also our longing to be complete. There are no stories that are not problem-based and there are no stories that do not long for restoration. As we look to make the world a better place for all, we are to understand how stories can help us identify solutions to our issues. Sharing and listening to each others’ stories enhances our ability to analyze and learn from experiences. Since birth, each one of us was exposed to stories, which led us to form ways or abilities to use stories to process information. We subconsciously create for ourselves a framework that facilitates the way we resolve problems. We tend to look back to our own stories or other people stories to form a pathway to resolve complex issues in our lives and others’.

As we think about current social issues, we can use the power of stories to identify solutions together to make a step in resolving them.

These are what Polis aims to do for the community as it tries to help people change many cultural norms so they can thrive.

“Stories are much more powerful than stats and other forms of presenting information,” said Polis Founder Phil Hissom. “Until we share our own stories with others, we won’t unravel racism in America. It is woven into the fabric of our nation. We need to figure out where we are at before we can begin to fix anything.” In the end, our stories can capture people’s hearts to motivate them to take actions for a better world. Our stories are gifts to others and others’ stories are gifts to us. It promotes the truth that no matter where we are from or who were born to, we all have something to bring to the table. We all have an ability to influence others positively through our life journey and the different skills we have  and gifts we’ve been given to work for the greater good. Our stories are a powerful instrument to show and appreciate each individual’s uniqueness and their potential to work for a purpose bigger than ourselves: to bring restoration by working together with an understanding of our peers and the problems they face.



Over the last few decades, the fast-moving urbanism in America has dramatically shaped new dynamics in community well-being across the country. A few factors that illustrate this are longer hours at work, non-family-friendly environments, domination of the media, and behavioral changes. These things greatly, negatively affect the population, particularly families.

The government and other organizations integrate different services to help people deal with this change but neglect the significance of strong communities that promote the well-being of individuals and families. At the same time, local services often struggle to support vulnerable families and meet their needs because doing so is not an easy task to take on. Many families fail to use services offered to them because they don’t know they exist or they are unwilling to access them. There is a need to make the people engaged in the community more, to contribute to their advancement, but it’s not at all easy. That’s where place-based approach comes in because it integrates services to build strong communities.

Place-based approach targets the whole community and addresses the different complex issues at a neighborhood level and the needs families have in the community. This approach aims to destroy the challenges people face that may stop the community and its population to thrive to its full potential. One of the main focuses of a place-based approach is to build stronger communities through stronger support for vulnerable families, including parents and children. It seeks to create service systems to engage such families, addressing the root cause of their issues in order to help meet their needs and the needs of their community—with a goal of lasting change. Whoever is utilizing place-based approach to help a community should make sure that whatever systems they set up are not just good systems, but those that can meet the tangible needs of the community members. Then, it’s up to the community members to engage for the betterment not only of their family, but the whole neighborhood.

Even within fast-changing environments, each community is filled with people with gifts and talents, who can change the course of their life and the world around them. Through a place-based approach, they are able to know their worth and have the self-dignity to be pioneers of change and transform their community to be healthy and strong.



In late 2018, Southwestern Social Science Association (SSSA) held their annual meeting in Orlando, with Polis Institute community development experts and University of Central Florida (UCF) interdisciplinary public affairs doctoral students among the panelists.

The meeting—run by SSSA, a social science association dedicated to promote knowledge and understanding of today’s world—gathers professional scholars, graduates, and undergraduates from all over the world to share intellect and encourage collaboration while building strong relationships among themselves.

The staff from Polis Institute and doctoral students from UCF partnered together to submit to the SSSA committee a community-based participatory research (CBPR) for Polis’ West Lakes MVP Families program—an effort to promote building strong families and stronger communities by walking alongside community members to empower them and help them develop as leaders..

SSSA committee refers to this academic partnership between both parties as  “An example of a Collaborative Community-University Partnership for Social Change.” The research was mainly focused on the impact of strong families in a community. It specifically aimed to bring out the perspectives of people in the community about the key factors of strong communities and the impact of having a program such as West Lakes MVP Families in the lives of their children, their own lives, and the community.

This project allowed Polis Institute and the doctoral students to work together to grow their knowledge and understanding of the local community, and build meaningful relationships. This CBPR could be replicated for other community-based organizations that have an interest in this type of partnership.

Polis Institute is a community-based organization that designs solutions to social problems in underappreciated neighborhoods.

The MVP program was established on the concept of the two-generation approach (2Gen) initiated by Aspen Institute. 2Gen consists of centralizing efforts in creating opportunities and addressing the needs of both the children and the parents in the family.



In this broken world, taking the time to learn about each other is pivotal for our health, both as individuals and a society. Hearing one another’s stories and growing in understanding of them allows us to connect with them and the world around us better. Sharing, too, is an act of bravery, an art people take for granted.

That is why Shawn Welcome decided to found a gathering open mic event called “Diverse Word” in 2006. Diverse Word is an open mic night in Orlando that is conducive and welcoming to all forms of spoken word such as poetry, songs, comedy, rap. It typically meets Tuesday night at Dandelion Cafe, but now meets in various locations throughout the city.

Welcome, a well-known spoken word poet from Brooklyn who now lives in Orlando, started Diverse Word after he experienced the homogeneity of the open mic scene in Orlando. He wanted to bring people from different backgrounds together to share their love for poetry and connect with the community. This is one of the reasons Polis hired Welcome, hoping to make Diverse Word a core component of their organization. They knew what a significant role it could play in fulfilling Polis’s vision for a peaceful and prosperous world, by gathering locals in a safe space where they can express themselves in creative ways, while respecting what others have to say.

Diverse Word and Polis hold that every person is valuable, as is what they have to offer to the community. They believe every human has dignity, no matter who they are or where they are from and that everyone has the right to make their voices heard, in the hopes of bringing hope and change in the community.

Unfortunately, in today’s society, people often qualify vulnerability as weakness, not recognizing the importance of transparency about pain, feelings, and emotions. Suppressing that emotional expression can bring anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem or self-dignity, a general decrease in positive emotions, and a lack of satisfaction and connectedness to the world around us. This is what Diverse Word is attacking.

Diverse Word identifies every human as relational beings, people who need to feel connected to other people. That is one reason this open mic is so great — sharing struggles and pain that allow a deep connection with who they are, while encouraging relating  to others as well. This helps in dealing with one’s own feelings and emotions and being comfortable in one’s own skin, instead of destroying themselves inside because of their fear of judgment from people. It brings a sense of healing within us and a motivation to take initiative to bring change in one’s life that will then help us flourishing in other areas of life. One woman, for instance, got out of depression from being able to share her journey through her platform at Diverse Word.

Over the years, Diverse Word has grown and greatly influenced the lives of the people in the community. The open mic event has fostered increasing creative expression in the community, one where people have begun to thinking of themselves as members of the society through their art. The space provided by Diverse Word has helped people  develop higher self-esteem because they’ve been given a platform for their voices to be heard—articulating their feelings and thoughts, which has generated discussions and conversations about different topics such as social and cultural issues in the community. This has encouraged them to be more engaged in the community.

Through the years, people’s stories showed that creative expression increases the maturity in dealing with emotions in a healthy way. Diverse Word has created a place where people are cared for as they go on a journey to understand themselves and their community through their art and how the courage of expressing themselves can be a great first step in bringing change to the community.

Polis and Welcome hope Diverse Word continues to create a space for all to understand their human nature and experiences and share it in both secular and faith environments. They hope it remains a safe place for people to share their pain and struggles through creativity, which is an effective way to minister to people.


For those interested, Diverse Word’s first quarterly competition of the year, called Diverse Word Winter Slam 2019, will be held this Tuesday, January 29th, 2019. Click Here to view event.

If you are interested in learning more about Diverse Word you can contact Shawn directly:

Cell: 407-683-6329


Eatonville, Florida – Culture of Health Prize Winner 2018

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaborates with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to award the Culture of Health Prize to select communities. This prize focuses on marginalized populations who show commitment to working together to better their residents’ lifestyles and the places they live in. These commitments are evident in different fields such as health, education, and business. Eatonville, Florida was one of four communities selected this year as a recipient of Culture of Health Prize out of nearly 200 applicants from across the country. Other communities that received this prize were: Cicero, Illinois; Klamath County, Oregon; and San Antonio, Texas. The Polis Institute contributed to this success by deploying our community engagement model and developing resident leadership. This program is called Leadership Eatonville which prepares participants to utilize a growth mindset, project management, and asset-based community development to help the community achieve meaningful goals. Leadership Eatonville was first piloted in 2016 and has graduated thirty-two residents thus far. Financial support for our efforts was provided by Winter Park Health Foundation which has had a long-standing relationship with the town and, along with Florida Hospital, established Healthy Eatonville Place – an initiative that contributed significantly to the town’s Culture of Health Prize win. The heroes of the story, however, are without a doubt the residents of Eatonville – the oldest predominant black community in America. These residents, 2,200 strong, were determined to make their community flourish by improving quality of life while maintaining the historical character of the city. Along with the help of churches, government leaders, organizations, nonprofits, associations leading various programs, projects, and trainings, Eatonville has realized great improvements over the past few years in terms of health, resident leadership and engagement, housing, education, local economy, and community development. After the discovery of high rates of diabetes, the town of Eatonville decided to take actions to be a healthier place. Town hall, nine local churches, Winter Park Health Foundation, Florida Hospital, and the Orlando Chapter of the American Diabetes Association all held an important role in addressing diabetes in the city. This was achieved through several initiatives surrounding wellness services such as, health classes, and studies on how to prevent or fight diabetes. The existing nine churches in Eatonville took part in this effort to make Eatonville flourish through high school sports games, diabetes prevention programs, food pantries, fitness classes, and after school programs. Additionally, a brand new school opened in August with the support of the mayor, the churches, and local businesses. They sought to fulfill the students’ needs during the school year. STEM was also incorporated throughout the curriculum. With a great desire to empower the next generation of leaders, Eatonville prepares youth for success with the help of local leaders, non-profits, after school programs, and churches. Read more about Eatonville’s award on the RWJF site by clicking here.

American Ideals and Broad Based Prosperity

During this year’s Central Florida Poverty Conference held in June, Polis Institute Founder and Director Phil Hissom shared his response to a report on American Poverty from the Council of Human Rights at the United Nations.

Hissom comments on three specific issues raised in the report: the number of children in poverty, income inequality and incarceration rates. He also compares these issues to the core American values of liberty, egalitarianism, and democracy. Since there is a belief that these values will lead to wealth production, he posits the following question: Can we create a more broad-based prosperity in America through our current set of ideals?

These American ideals imply that production of wealth leads to the greatest good. In light of this, Hissom turns his focus to the business sector due to its ability to produce the wealth that is redistributed through the government and social sectors.

During his discussion he weighs the issue of children living in poverty against the value of egalitarianism. He explains the importance of positive labels on children, the education and support of children, their parents, and/or other parties who are raising them.

Next, he addresses the issue of income inequality and compares it to the value of democracy. He discusses the immense gap between groups of people due to wealth concentration and how that affects our electoral process.

He then addresses the issue of incarceration rates while contrasting it to the value of liberty. He explains that America has the highest incarceration rate in the world and how the poor are disproportionately affected by this issue. Along with this, he explains the issue of discrimination in the workforce. Despite low unemployment rates, wages are not enough to sustain a practical living.

Hissom believes that those core values (liberty, egalitarianism, democracy) are important in creating broad-based prosperity, but only by taking them more seriously. He also suggests that there are two other values which need to be elevated: dignity and interdependence, which he combines into what he calls “dignified interdependence”.

Dignity is the fundamental value of the human being and should foster an honest appreciation of what everyone has to offer. He emphasizes the significance of affirming people for who they are: human beings with inherent dignity that stems from being created in God’s image. He believes our job is to help people use their gifts so that they can have an impact on other people. Interdependence embodies the idea of people coming together for the good of the community. We will only reach our greatest potential when we all come together and celebrate our shared successes.

Does it trouble you that America is near the bottom of the list of developed countries in terms of how well we are addressing poverty? This video explains how we can best make use of our fundamental American values to move up that list and, more importantly, change lives and strengthen communities.