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Target Practice

by Pamela Lee, Urban Institute

Setting targets and measuring performance can go a long way toward achieving goals. For ambitious, multi-pronged, cross-organizational, place-based initiatives like Promise Neighborhoods, target setting is critically important. It allows an organization to track progress, make mid-stream corrections as necessary, and compare internal performance against benchmarks.

But target setting can be tricky, given the sheer scale and size of Promise Neighborhoods programs and populations.

For example, consider a site that knows it wants to increase the number of young children enrolled in center-based early learning programming (GPRA 3). It’s not enough to simply pick number out of thin air – say, 5 percent – and then hope that you’ll increase the numbers of community children enrolled in early learning programming by 5 percent each year for the next five years. Promise Neighborhoods need to take into consideration factors like actual past performance, partner capabilities and resources, and delivery services practices to ensure it can realistically meet its goal.

The site may find that 5% is too ambitious a target, and it cannot realistically expect to achieve this goal. Or the target may be too low. It is important to do some research first, and to carefully weigh and consider the evidence.

To help guide grantees with the target setting process, the Urban Institute has just released its Promise Neighborhood Target Setting Guidance. The document provides specific guidance for Promise Neighborhood implementation grantees, who are required to set and submit baselines, performance data, and targets for each GPRA indicator for all five years of the Promise Neighborhoods grant program. It identifies several data sources, considerations, and methods that Promise Neighborhoods and similar programs can consider when setting targets.

Through this document, we hope that Promise Neighborhoods and other place-based efforts will get a solid foundation in the disciplined setting of reliable, realistic targets.

Read and let us know what you think in the comments!


Diving Deep with the Urban Institute: Neighborhood Surveys

by Sarah Gillespie, Urban Institute

We know many grantees spend a lot of time on the topic of neighborhood surveys.  Collecting data through a neighborhood survey is critical for measuring overall trends in the neighborhood throughout the initiative (not just among direct participants) and much of the information sites need to collect is likely not available from other sources. Conducting a good survey is a complicated process. It may be worth considering hiring survey experts or firms to assist with the surveys, depending on the Promise Neighborhood team’s expertise in this area.

To help untangle some of the common challenges around neighborhood surveys, we’ve collected a couple commonly asked questions and answers as well as a couple highlights from sites currently engaged in various stages of the survey process.  The Urban Institute provides technical assistance for neighborhood surveys, and other grantees are a wealth of knowledge in their own experiences and expertise!

Q: How should sites define baseline data—when and how is it collected?

A: Year 1 is the baseline for Promise Neighborhood grantees.  Sites should complete the neighborhood survey in the first year, if at all possible, to collect baseline data on the GPRA measures collected through the survey.  School climate surveys are also collected in year one.  The Guidance Document recommends the neighborhood survey be conducted every other year with in-person interviews, while the school climate survey can be an annual self-administered questionnaire given to students to complete themselves.

Q: How are the intake process and the neighborhood survey different?

A: Intake information is collected for each child and family member who is enrolled in the Promise Neighborhood initiative.  The neighborhood survey is collected on a representative random sample of households in the neighborhood, not just the population participating in services. Intake information is stored in the case management system and the neighborhood survey will be stored separately as part of the Promise Neighborhood’s longitudinal data.  GPRA measures should be collected for both participants (annually in the case management system) and the neighborhood (every other year through the neighborhood survey).

DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative Highlight—survey outreach

Students in the DC Promise Neighborhood

DCPNI planned a public awareness/marketing campaign throughout the month before the survey including e-mails, flyers, and knocking on doors. The team is also planning outreach at school events which attract many parents. DCPNI has also been working with neighborhood churches, housing communities, and other community leadership groups to help get the word out. These groups requested a simple one-pager describing the survey and a short PowerPoint to present to their respective audiences. The outreach will communicate the survey timeline, data confidentiality, and the importance to the community. 

East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood Highlight—fielding the survey

East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood students

East Lubbock obtained the services of the University of Kansas to do the sampling plan for their survey.

They hired and trained community residents through Goodwill Temporary Services who met every weeknight for a week at a community center in East Lubbock at 5 p.m.  Spanish-speaking and English-speaking teams were assigned to census blocks, driven to their areas and returned to the Center at 7:45 p.m. to turn in their paperwork and sign out.  Two staff remained at the community center throughout the survey times to monitor calls from teams and drivers.

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhoods—field the survey

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood

The Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood planning grant used Promotoras recruited partly from the Chula Vista Community Collaborative (CVCC) and through word of mouth within the community.  CVCC is a nationwide leading agency that specializes in teaching the Promotora Model. The mission of the Promotora Program is to assist community residents in achieving optimal levels of health, well-being and community safety through neighborhood and school outreach strategies that focus on prevention and education. Promotoras are local Spanish-speaking residents who serve as liaisons between their community and integrated health and family support programs.  After training, Promotoras were paired with Research Assistants from the survey and evaluation firm for conducting door-to-door interviews.

Survey Resources

Urban Institute Guidance document for Promise Neighborhoods

American Statistical Association in PDF and interactive format

Designing questionnaires

Methodology pieces UI published as part of its National Survey of America’s Families

Astoria Houses Neighborhood Survey for Zone 126 Promise Neighborhood



Portia Hemphill: Reflections on Promise Neighborhoods National Network Conference

“I was warmed by the high level of engagement throughout the duration of the conference. Participants, in the spirit of advancing our children, worked collectively to share strategies and assist in problem-solving critical roadblocks to success. I will not forget the conversations I had with site leaders who were energetic about their work and willing to receive and share success stories with peers. I left with a renewed sense of purpose and promise for my work with PolicyLink.”

Portia Hemphill, Data & Equity Intern, Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink

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Erika Bernabei: Reflections on Promise Neighborhoods National Network Conference

“Last week’s convening was an incredible opportunity to see how communities across the country are developing a true peer-to-peer network. Throughout the data and accountability sessions, I was thrilled to see Promise communities providing guidance on best practices, sharing tools and strategies, and supporting each other in getting towards the results that will transform the lives of children and families.”

Erika Bernabei, Program Associate, Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink

Nashville Promise Neighborhood Inks Groundbreaking Data Deal with School District!

Nashville Promise Neighborhood is about to take their work to a whole new level.

The group announced the approval of its data sharing partnership with Metro Nashville Schools to support common results around student achievement and family supports.

As the Tennessean reported on Friday, the Metro Nashville Public Schools district “keeps a real-time, state-of-the-art data warehouse in order to track student progress and spot issues that could be interfering with performance.”

Using Social Solutions’ Efforts to Outcomes system to track the data, Nashville Promise Neighborhood is helping the city as a whole to comprehensively integrate school and community provider data in a single system, accelerating its ability to transform the lives of children and families.

Jasmine Piernas, an AmeriCorps member serving as a tutor for the Martha O'Bryan Center, works with Ali Hassan, a first grader from Kirkpatrick Elementary School. Photo courtesy Martha O'Bryan Center.

“We support collective impact models of transformation, and a key component of this is the sharing of information,” said Laura Hansen, Metro Schools Director of Information Management and Decision Support and co-chair of the Nashville Promise Neighborhood Data and Research Committee.

Metro Nashville Schools is one of the first school districts in the nation to establish a powerful data sharing partnership with a Promise Neighborhood.

“The data partnership with the school district empowers the NPN to effectively link local schools and NPN Partner Organizations to change outcomes for students from kindergarten to college,” said Robin Veenstra-VanderWeele, director of the Nashville Promise Neighborhood.

That’s what it’s all about. Congrats to Nashville on their incredible success!

Check out Laura Hansen, Robin Veentra-VanderWeele, and the Nashville Promise Neighborhood in this video report from News Channel 5 in Nashville!

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Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Data (All in One Document)

Let’s face it: using data is super necessary to getting results for children and families–but can also be incredibly difficult to collect, analyze, and use correctly. Are you confused? Well, we got you covered.

The Urban Institute has just released the eagerly-awaited Measuring Performance: A Guidance Document for Promise Neighborhoods on Collecting Data and Reporting Results.

This comprehensive guidance document will provide clarity on the US Department of Education’s required indicators for Promise Neighborhoods, as well as recommend data collection strategies, sources, and methods.

And it won’t just be useful for Promise Neighborhoods—it will be broadly applicable to the larger field of place-based efforts. This will allow us to coordinate our efforts, regardless of specific initiative, and develop high-quality, consistent processes that get results for children and families in communities across the country.

The document clearly defines the federal Promise Neighborhoods indicators, provides “Top 10 Recommendations for Data Collection and Reporting,” sample data sharing agreements, and much more. We have broken down the document into chapters to help you navigate the text–you’ll also find an executive summary and complete list of appendices!

Full Guidance Document (at
Executive Summary, Chapter Breakdown, Appendices (on PNI website)

Leave us a comment or a question below, or email Erika Bernabei for more assistance with this guide!

Ahh! Data is so confusing! You need a guidance document to figure it all out.


Hayward Does Good with Data

by Erika Bernabei

Hayward Promise Neighborhood has formed a successful data partnership with the local school district!

This is huge.

Hayward Promise Neighborhood’s success in acquiring individual, student-level data from the Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) makes it one of the first Promise Neighborhoods in the nation to take action on that crucial step. Hayward Promise’s strong relationship with the school district, along with a commitment to results on both ends, has truly accelerated the initiative’s momentum!

What’s the big deal?

A shared data partnership demonstrates a deep commitment to getting results for children and families. Now that a community of partners is focused on managing services and supports for children, families, and community members through a powerful data management system, Hayward will be able to take a solid approach to building a seamless cradle to career pipeline. Additionally, this type of collaboration requires a level of trust between and among the partners to have the sometimes difficult conversations that make the work move forward and stay focused on supporting the children and families. It’s tough work, and Hayward is rolling up its sleeves.

Melinda Hall, Hayward Promise Neighborhoods’ Project Director (on left) and Dean Carolyn Nelson of The College of Education at CSU East Bay, received the data from Jamie Mumau (on right), Director of   Assessment, Research & Evaluation for the Hayward Unified School District and Stephen Redmond, Coordinator Prevention & Intervention, HUSD on Friday afternoon.

This kind of visionary leadership by the school district positions Hayward Promise for real transformative work with and for children and families in the community!






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Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and You

by Michael McAfee and Adam Luecking

Bill Gates and Barack Obama both encourage a focus on measurement and data to solve problems

Bill Gates and Barack Obama have the right idea.

Gates’ recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, My Plan to Fix the World’s Greatest Problems, highlights the need to set clear goals, use measures to drive progress, and analyze results in a feedback loop.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama introduced a College Scorecard to help students choose colleges based on information related to size, cost, location, graduation rate, employment, and how many students are able to repay student loans after graduation. This scorecard was part of an overall emphasis in his speech on early education-to-career support for children to gain the skills necessary to get good jobs and climb a ladder of opportunity into the middle class.

Both Gates and President Obama are focusing on measurement and data in order to help children and families in distressed neighborhoods succeed. This is exactly the focus of Mark Friedman’s book, Trying Hard is Not Good Enough: How to Produce Measurable Improvements for Customers and Communities—the focus we maintain in our work to support Promise Neighborhoods.

The most effective way to get population-level results is to use Results-Based Accountability (RBA) to create measurable impact on community indicators like obesity rates, high school graduation rates, median incomes, and the air quality index—and we’ve got a scorecard of our own to help Promise Neighborhoods serve the children and families in their communities.

Promise Neighborhoods, which build a continuum of education, health, and social supports from the cradle to college to career, were created by President Obama in 2010 in order to replicate the successful model of the Harlem Children’s Zone. They work on common indicators to achieve a shared set of results, and use our Promise Scorecard to rigorously measure data, assess progress, and continuously improve and connect services to help children succeed.

Across the country, over 60 Promise Neighborhoods are scaling up to serve over 200,000 children. Because their efforts address the interconnected challenges of poverty, this movement has the ability to reverse the cycle of generational poverty, ultimately creating an equitable society in which all children can learn, participate, and prosper.

This methodology is applicable in many different fields. As Bill Gates notes, “from the fight against polio to fixing education, what’s missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data. We can do better. We have the tools at hand.”

No matter what change you want to see in the world, you can use data for learning, continuous improvement, and shared accountability to achieve real results. To start, here are seven simple questions to ask yourself, courtesy of Mark Friedman:

  1. Results: What are the quality of life conditions we want for the children, adults, and families who live in our community?
  2. Experience:  What would these conditions look like if we could see, feel, and experience them?
  3. Indicators:  How can we measure these conditions?
  4. Trendline:  How are we doing on the most important of these measures?
  5. Partners: Who are the partners that have a role to play in doing better?
  6. What Works:  What works, and what would it take to do better? What low-cost or no-cost actions could we take?
  7. Action Plan:  What do we propose to do?

Measurement and data analysis are critical to building successful Promise Neighborhoods and other comprehensive community change efforts, though they’re not useful in a vacuum. We also need supportive public policies, sufficient funding, and targeted technical assistance to allow measurement and data-informed action. With the leadership of Bill Gates, President Obama, and other public, private, and nonprofit sector leaders at the national and local levels to support the necessary tools and training, our neighborhoods can make and keep their promises to children. Let’s remain focused so that all children can grow up in a society in which they can participate and prosper.

Michael McAfee is Director of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink. Adam Luecking is CEO of the Results Leadership Group, creators of the Results Scorecard software. He is also past president of the Community Indicators Consortium, an international non-profit focused on helping local communities use better data in decision-making.

PAID Summer Interns Wanted!

It’s that time of year again! We’ve got two amazing PAID internships available for current graduate students (or extraordinary exceptions)–one in communications and one in data and equity work–so check out the descriptions below, and head over to PolicyLink when you’re ready to apply (make sure to scroll allllll the way down the page).

Communications Intern (New York, NY)

The Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink seeks a highly skilled, high-capacity communications intern to support the Senior Communications Associate. The intern will create and implement communications strategies to lift up the work of Promise Neighborhoods across the country, focusing on constructing awards for results achieved and strategies implemented by Promise Neighborhoods, selecting high-profile judges from a variety of sectors (business, philanthropy, nonprofit, academia, government), and planning and implementing an awards ceremony that will draw media attention.

The Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink communications focus is on lifting up good work at the community level to propel a national movement, increasing broad support for Promise Neighborhoods, and making the Promise Neighborhood movement sustainable. The awards project is a centerpiece of our communications strategy, and will give the intern the opportunity gain valuable experience by:

  • Creating a plan to promote, execute, and leverage the awards ceremony
  • Gaining an understanding of Promise Neighborhoods and other comprehensive community change efforts
  • Researching education policy and understanding the leaders in the field
  • Writing press releases, blog posts, email blasts, and employing social media
  • Planning an event with hundreds of participants and media
  • Working with reporters, bloggers, and using social media to promote the event and highlight key issues and messages
  • Identifying and reach out to high-profile leaders to serve as judges for the awards


This internship is ideal for a continuing graduate student in communications, public relations, public policy, business, education, public health, urban planning, or related fields, with an interest in education policy and comprehensive community change. If you want to deepen your skills in event planning and promotion, media relations, and engaging leaders from different sectors in Promise Neighborhoods efforts while working to promote economic and social equity by improving academic and life outcomes for children and their families, we’d love to see your application!

Specific qualifications include:

  • Background in communications, event planning, media, social media, and messaging
  • Interest in strategies promoting economic and social equity
  • Top notch writing and communication skills
  • BA and a graduate degree in progress


Data and Results for Equity Intern (New York, NY)

Project Description:

PolicyLink is seeking a graduate student intern to support our Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink (PNI) work on data and results for equity.

Specifically, PNI’s data work supports communities in turning a curve on 10 results defined by 15 indicators by the Department of Education using Results Based Accountability, a longitudinal data system, and a data dashboard.

The PNI data intern will provide research and technical support to ensure the Institute’s focus on results with our Promise Neighborhoods sites is successful. Tasks may include: tracking and organizing information on individual Promise Neighborhoods’ progress collecting and using data for action and in turning curves in their communities assist sites using RBA, developing a progress matrix that would help Promise communities determine that foundational elements are in place and that they are turning curves as per the 10 results and 15 indicators, coordination and development of equity message and need for disaggregated data. Written products may include internal and external progress memos, case studies, and meeting materials.

Qualifications & Skills:

Graduate student in public policy/administration, education, social work advocacy, law or related field, with an interest in systems and policy approaches to improve outcomes for youth in poor communities and communities of color.

Specific qualifications include:

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Experience with qualitative and quantitative research
  • Commitment to economic and social equity issues
  • Experience and interest in youth development, education, public health issues (e.g., youth violence prevention, obesity, and health disparities, etc.), public policy
  • Advocacy experience – including community organizing, training, working with Community Based Organizations
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Extensive computer skills
  • Good team player
  • Ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment and multitask

PolicyLink is committed to building and maintaining a diverse staff and a welcoming workplace.

Summer internships are full-time, compensated, and generally last 10 weeks. Each intern will be expected to complete a final report and make a final presentation to staff.


PNI Panels, California-Style

PNI staff are on the move! Note the dates and head to sunny (or foggy, depending) California for some Promise Neighborhoods conference love.

May 9: Deputy Director Kay Fernandez Smith will be speaking at the EdSource symposium in Los Angeles on what schools, families, and communities can do.

May 9-12: Program Associate Erika Bernabei and PolicyLink founder and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell will both be at the Coalition for Community Schools National Forum in San Francisco. Angela will be discussing the role of equity in community schools;  Erika will be discussing the role of data in Promise Neighborhoods. Want a sneak peak? Check out Erika’s video on data!

Don’t miss these wonderful conferences!

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