Monday, August 23, 2010

What's the real deal with the Peaceoholics controversy?

Over the years, various articles and opinion pieces have appeared questioning the relationship between the founders of Peaceoholics and Mayor Fenty.   The articles have criticized the organization for taking millions of dollars and showing little for it and, of course, made hay of Ronald Moten's often bombastic attacks against, well, pretty much everyone.

However, in all this time little attention has been paid to the most important issue–whether Peaceoholics has achieved results with some of the city's hardest to reach/touch/engage/help/influence young people.   It seems to me our primary concern should be about whether Peaceoholics has improved outcomes for young people—rather than in Moe's histrionics and the relationship between Moe and the mayor.   In the same way, we should be interested in how well other organizations, public and private, are helping clients/DC residents have better lives.

Investigating Peaceoholics and the various public rants associated with the media reports seem to have satisfied our sense of moral outrage.   I contend, though, that this has come at the expense of routinely asking how we are doing on the path of making long-lasting, appreciable change for children and youth, about how we are doing to improve their life's outcomes.

A slight digression:   I remember having a conversation with a colleague about outputs and outcomes, trying to balance the government's responsibilities and the contractor's responsibilities.   At one point my colleague said, "But they weren't told to count that."   I don't recall what the "that" was – the number of people walking through the door, the number of clients turned away for lack of capacity, or what.   It really doesn’t matter.   What sticks with me was my colleague's belief that the contractor had no responsibility for anything other than what the contracting agency told them to do and no more.

Anyone who knows me knows that at the point my colleague said that, I started shaking my head and hands and making weird noises, repeating questions, getting snarkier by the minute.   Why, you ask?   Because I want the best for DC's young residents, I want to be able to tell the story of their condition and what I did to improve it.   That requires no legal contract, only a social contract.   No one has to tell me to do that.

How does this tie in to the latest Peaceoholics fracas?   The link for me is pretty basic:   I am concerned that too little attention is paid to outcomes, measurement, reporting, and contract monitoring by the media and public.   If Peaceoholics did what they were paid to do, that is good.   Could they have done more?   It is hard to tell without an exhaustive review of contracts, case files, and data.

What I do know is that Peaceoholics is not alone in their focus on the street work and less than optimal performance on data collection and analysis, program design, reporting, and the like.   To me, this is the story.   The story is about how well the public and private sectors have helped children and youth achieve better immediate and long-term outcomes.   I'm afraid the real story is that too many of us have not done all we can to make life better for kids. I'm afraid the real story is that organizations have received obscene amounts of money and their clients have little to show for it.

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