James Bell Associates Learning Circle

Learning Circle Plan

Matthew Shepherd

Learning Circle Purpose

ACF spends millions of dollars each year on program designed to improve the child welfare system in America with the goal of improving outcomes for children. Often these programs a funded through discretionary grant funded which is more flexible and allows ACF to test new and novel approaches to improving the child welfare system, which do not yet have an evidence base documenting their effectiveness.

Most often these programs are implemented by local and state based child welfare agencies who are the front line providers to families and children in crisis situations. While this program staffs are experts in the delivery of child welfare services they are typically much less experienced in conducting program evaluation activities.

The importance of an effective evaluation in these demonstration programs cannot be overstated. An effective program evaluation provides critical information that can allow the program to evolve and adapt and find ways in which programs are implemented effectively versus being conceived well on paper. Furthermore, ACF and the child welfare field at large must have a way to learn if the new approaches that are being tested in these demonstration grants are effective and should be expanded or if ineffective and resources should be utilized elsewhere.

There is a great deal variation in the level of resources and internal capacity available for program evaluation in ACF funded organizations. There is not doubt that these organizations are invested and motivated to do the best evaluation possible and to provide ACF with the information that they need regarding the effectiveness of the programs. However, personnel responsible for evaluation activities in such organizations may not have specific training in evaluation, and usually have few if any resources to rely upon to build effective evaluation processes.

Allowing interested evaluation staff from these organizations to participate in a Learning Circles driven personal development process (at no cost to them) to build evaluation skills would be well received and of interest to many. Further, by allowing each site to bring forward their own ACF evaluation as a learning tool to be worked on by the group this will result in better program and more effective program evaluations.


Approximately 10-12 evaluators (or program staff responsible for evaluation) from organizations funded by the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) Child Welfare Discretionary Grant Program conducting demonstration projects will be invited to participate. These programs and staff persons will be identified based on their participation in one of three Evaluation Roundtable training events hosted by James Bell Associates taking place in the spring and summer of 2009. Individuals invited to participate will be individuals and organizations not needing intensive direct technical assistance, but interested and open to programmatic improvement and personal development opportunities.

Major Objectives

1) Professional Development evaluation staff / Evaluation Related Capacity Building for grantees of ACF assisted by JBA.

2) Improved / Enhanced ACF funded program evaluations that improve funded programs and more effectively document program impact.

Modes of Communication

All communication will be distance based. We will use a variety of real time, and static communication strategies. This LC program will take place over a 2 month – 8 week period. It is anticipated that each LC will have real time (live) discussions via phone or some other format six times over this period. A weekly meeting time will be scheduled with the anticipation that a few of these time slots will not be used.

In addition, to live communication the LC will communicate asynchronously on an ongoing basis as the primary mechanism for sharing information and providing feedback to group members.

The Completed Project/Presentations

The completed product of this LC process will be

1) a revised project logic model

2) a revised evaluation plan for the program

3) a personal development plan

Timeline of events

Pre Start – Online sharing of program information

Voice thread bonding exercise

Week 1 - 1st “conference call”

Establish group ground rules and expectations

Week 2 Draft of personal development plan – strengths and areas for growth

- Develop LC human resource list

Week 3 Presentation of current evaluation plan “as is”

- Personal research and growth material – learn something new to share

Week 4 Group Feedback on Plans

Week 5 Discussion on plans – selecting things to improve and how

Week 6 Revised Evaluation Plan

Revised Personal Plan

Week 7 Feedback and final revisions

Week 8 Closing and lessons learned

You are welcome to visit this learning circles for evaluators.