Recycling what The Patterson Foundation learns for the benefit of others

Recycling what The Patterson Foundation learns for the benefit of others

Posted on December 18, 2012 by Rusty Coats

One of the things I like most about working with The Patterson Foundation is that it embraces the philosophy of recycling.

That doesn’t just apply to material goods – although we are pretty diligent about sorting our plastic water bottles. It applies to ideas and the products of those ideas.

Too often, we’ve all sat in strategic meetings where very intelligent people pronounce that they absolutely will not reinvent the wheel. And then they proceed to reinvent the wheel.

TPF, instead, approaches initiatives through a learning perspective – and then looks for opportunities to re-use what was learned.

I was reminded of this at the recent Community Journalism Executive Training event in Los Angeles. CJET was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and administered through the Investigative News Network. It was based on the innovative Super Camp program The Patterson Foundation funded for 12 hyperlocal publishers at Block by Block. Because of the impact Super Camp had in building paths to sustainability for independent news publishers, Knight, through INN, wanted to expand the work to a broader base.

Instead of starting from scratch, Knight wanted to repurpose TPF’s work on a larger scale to see if it would be as effective with nearly three times the participants.

Here’s what we reused:

  • Pre-work. Setting expectations, recruiting participants and coaches, screening, pre-course readings, ramping up, etc.  – and all associated documents/timelines.
  • Curriculum. The flow and contents of the syllabus. Presentations and tent poles, timing of sessions. Etc.
  • Coursework. This included spreadsheets, questionnaires and narrative documents created during the sessions.
  • Coaching dynamic. How to work with participants, expectations, goals, etc. And, in some cases, the same coaches.
  • Gestalt. How it all came together. This includes some right-brain/left-brain switcharooo work, immersion into the work and cutting off outside contact.

Right there you can see those tenets at work. TPF funded the creation of a curriculum and encounter-group approach to help independent publishers level-up in sustainability. Once TPF found success in that curriculum, other larger foundations (and, more importantly, foundations that are in the journalism sector long-term) sought to replicate that success.

So TPF funded the re-use of the content, freeing Knight’s funds to be completely used to increase impact by bringing more publishers to the table. TPF said, in effect: “We have that on the shelf and you’re welcome to use it.”

That doesn’t suggest the first draft is perfect. CJET provided the opportunity to refine, throw out items that were good ideas but didn’t work, build on successes and sand the rough edges. As any writer, coder or woodworker knows, refining and refinishing are faster work than creating. The goal is to continue improving, not re-setting to zero.

It’s a simple but brilliant approach, but it easily could have gone a much different – and much more typical – way. That is, another foundation could have done its own program, but spent months (and, likely, three quarters of its spend) developing a new but oddly similar curriculum and approach.

Instead, by recycling something successful, Knight and INN could build on success, focus on helping more publishers and invest in rolling forward, together, rather than reinventing the wheel.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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