Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

August 28, 2013

Sharing with others: How model documentation leads to adaptation

Sandy Edwards

The North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI) has developed a model for a community-wide Jewish teen engagement and education initiative that has produced evidence of success. Colleagues from various parts of the country have reached out to Adam Smith, NSTI’s executive director, to find out how they too can implement successful components of the NSTI model. 
Smith is happy to engage in conversation and is excited to share. However, he continues to have obligations to grow and sustain NSTI, so he needs to find a more efficient way of communicating information that would contribute to implementation of NSTI’s model in other communities.

To support the dissemination of the NSTI model, documentation of the model has begun.

What is model documentation? It is a description of the model and lessons learned from implementation. While this description is intended to offer a guide to adaptation of the model, it is not a prescription. The best documentation includes descriptions of the most critical components, important contextual and readiness factors, core methods and approaches, financial information, important personal and organizational relationships that supported implementation, challenges encountered and stories from the field.

Why do it?  Documentation offers the opportunity to share what was learned. It provides tools and practices that supported the successful implementation of the model during the development and demonstration phase so that others can adapt or implement the model or components of it.

In addition to NSTI, two other initiatives supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation are engaged in a process of documentation: 1) Jewish Learning Works’ BASIS, the Israel Education Day School Project in 11 San Francisco Bay Area schools, and 2) the Los Angeles High School Affordability Initiative (LAHSAI), operated by the Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), which is a demonstration project to both stabilize and incrementally increase the enrollment of students from middle-income families at five Jewish high schools. It also was designed to build capacity in the schools to create an endowment to sustain affordability for these families.

How does documentation lead to adaptation? Both BASIS and LAHSAI have national partners that can leverage the documentation of the models to support dissemination among their respective constituencies. BASIS works closely with the iCenter, a national Israel education resource center focused on pre-collegiate Israel education, which will create a cohort of schools to implement BASIS. LAHSAI has partnered with the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education’s (PEJE) Generations program to expand the capacity to create an endowment fund from the five high schools to an additional seven day schools in Los Angeles.

Perhaps the most effective means to share model documentation information is through a stand-alone website, which houses the entire model documentation in an organized, step-by-step manner. Ideally, an individual accesses the site to determine if the model fits his or her needs and uses the site’s content to begin an implementation process.

Again, model documentation, in and of itself, is not sufficient to support successful adaptation of a model. It needs to be coupled with consultation and works best with the support of a national entity like iCenter or PEJE, which brings additional resources to bear (there is no counterpart national entity in the Jewish teen education space in support of NSTI, which presents challenges). Documentation does provide the foundation to enable more targeted conversation or site visits to support implementation.

And model documentation helps Adam Smith continue his work with the growth and development of NSTI. Simultaneously, he is equipped with the tools and information to support dissemination of a model that can help other communities better engage their Jewish teens.

Sandy Edwards, Ph.D., is associate director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States.

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