Sunday, March 08, 2009

Can Gen-X Bring Outcomes Assessment to the Church?

My fellow Presbyterian-poker Michael Kruse has a good post, "Budgets Are Not Moral Documents." He takes issues with evangelical Left leader Jim Wallis, who has famously argued that budgets are, indeed, moral documents. Wallis' contention is that you tell what an organization values by what it spends on. I think this is partly true. But Kruse makes the important point that what really matters to the world is not what you spent money on, but what effect your spending, and your work, has.

The church, and the non-profit world in general, are just pervaded with the idea that what matters is what we put in to achieving our goals, not what we get out of our money and work. Kruse is a church reformer trying to get the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to pay more attention to the effects of its spending than their good intentions (or worse, to their job protection intentions). Mrs. G. is an education reformer trying to redirect the attention of public schools in a parallel way. Higher education, where I labor, is beset by ranking systems that measure inputs, like endowments size and spending per pupil, and not outcomes - what students learn and what kind of people they become as a result.

I have written about the broad difference in mindset between Baby Boomers and Generation X. I don't know where Kruse fits in this narrative. I do know that Wallis is a classic Boomer. I am on the cusp between the two generations, so I daily notice the difference. Boomers are often content to be judged by the morality of their rhetoric. Xers are more likely to eschew rhetoric and Just Do It.

One of the great achievements of Gen X as they now come to power could be to shift the practice of institutions from talking a good game to doing what it takes to actually improve achievement.

1 comment:

Michael Kruse said...

By Strauss and Howe's definition, I'm a trailing Boomer and a cusper. On the staff there are people like Tom Taylor who is the same age I am and shares a strong results oriented focus. I think there is some merit to the thesis.

Other issues also figure in. By temperament, I'm a Myers-Brigs INTJ and I don't suffer excessive idealism gladly. :-) (I find many older Boomers particularly exasperating in this regard.) I became Presby as a young adult and I have much less of the sentimental attachments to programs and traditions.

Furthermore, I think the nominating committee has been asked to identify people who have experience or inclinations that qualify them for leading in adaptive organizations like the one we are trying to become. Among the new batch of folks a sense an increased (not universal) desire to really embrace this model.

We also have had some excellent leadership from Boomer leaders like Linda Valentine (executive director) and others on staff. She or her senior staff have hired a number of folks who I think might fit your scenario.

I do think I have been one of the most persistent and relentless voices among the board for moving toward outcomes assessment and I spent four years working on the Mission Work Plan process. But I really have had precious little to do with the actual transformation of the Presbyterian Center culture that has been underway.

So I think there probably is a generational component at work but a big piece of it is also just everybody owning up to the reality of how the world has changed