Have you ever had a leaking roof? No? Well…just humor us for a moment. Pretend if you have to. Whether you’ve experienced a leaking roof or not, you’ll probably agree that it is not a good idea to ignore the problem until the roof caves in.
Because we aren’t tickled by the thought of living exposed to the elements, we take specific actions to fix a leaky roof. But what does a leaking roof have to do with social wellbeing?
Just like a leaking roof, social issues are problems be solved. In comparison to poverty, teenage pregnancy, drunk driving, and poor health, a leaking roof is a small problem. But here’s the good news: the thought process for fixing these problems is exactly the same. And there’s more good news: we can use the same thought process to improve our organizational performance.
First, consider the story of the leaky roof. Put yourself in the homeowner’s shoes. Then, Consider how you can mirror this thought process in your organization.
How bad are things currently?
First, we need to figure out how to measure how bad the roof is leaking. Establishing a baseline for how we are doing will help us understand if the situation is improving, getting worse, or staying the same over time. So, we could put out a bucket and measure the number of inches in the bucket after each rainstorm.
We should do the same exact thing when it comes to social issues. If we want to alleviate poverty in our community, we need to measure the poverty rate prior to, throughout, and after our alleviation efforts.
Why is it leaking?
There are many different solutions to the problem of a leaking roof. But you’re smart, because you know that the solution needs to fit the cause in order to be effective. Maybe there’s a hole in the roof. Or, maybe it’s not a problem with the roof at all. Maybe your kid accidentally overflowed the tub (come on Jimmy!!). You need to investigate the causes behind the leak.
Consider the issue of poor high school graduation rates. Maybe a particular school district has a high rate of chronic absenteeism. Here, it is important to dig deep and keep asking “why.” Are kids missing school because they’re bored? Are they involved in drugs? Do they need to work to help Mom and Dad pay the bills? For any solution to be effective, you must have thorough knowledge of the causes.
Who can help us?
Unless you’re handy around the home, you’re probably going to need to get help fixing your leaking roof. Maybe your next-door neighbor has dealt with the same issue and you can seek his advice. Or, you may need to hire a professional roofer. These are some of your potential partners.
Consider the example used in the last step. Your organization alone cannot be held responsible for improving the high school graduation rate. You will need to enlist the help of the school district, the kids, parents, educational nonprofits, and any other relevant partners. Partners have additional knowledge, resources, and manpower to help make improvements.
What might work to fix the leak?
Let’s say the leak is due to an actual hole in the roof. Consider what kinds of things will work to fix the hole. If it’s a small leak, you might get away with using some patching material. If there is a lot of damage, you might have to get the roof professionally repaired.
When it comes to solving complex social issues, one of the most effective things you can do is to study other organizations or communities that have solved similar issues. Consider existing research, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Don’t forget about low-cost and no-cost ideas!
What are you going to do about it?
Let’s recap. You know you have a leaking roof. You know how bad it’s leaking because you’ve measured it. You can safely assume that the situation isn’t going to get any better if you do nothing differently. You’ve figured out why it’s leaking, found some people who can help, and considered some potential solutions. The next thing you need to do is figure out what you’re actually going to do about it. This is your action plan. So, call the repairman, request an appointment, and get that roof fixed!
When creating your action plan, you’ll want to be as specific as possible. You’ll want to figure out which strategies you’re going to pursue and then break them down into individual actions and responsibilities. Assign specific actions to specific people and set due dates. Make sure you are following up to ensure actions are being completed in a timely manner.
You’re not done yet.
So, now you’ve implemented your action plan. But you’re still not 100% sure that the solution you chose was effective. So, what are you going to do? Wait for the next rainstorm! Is the roof still leaking? If it is, then you go through the entire process again. You’d do the same thing in your work to improve your community. Keep asking “why?”, try something else, and see if things get better. You keep going through the entire process until things improve. Even if things are improving, you keep going through the process to see if you can accelerate improvement.
The Leaking Roof thinking process lies at the heart of Results-Based Accountability. It’s common sense and can be used to solve everyday problems, make improvements on complex social issues, and improve organizational performance. You’ve probably already implemented this process at some point in your life.
It’s time to start using the common sense ideas that we know work! How could you translate the leaking roof thinking process into your organization?
To learn more about how the leaking roof thinking process can help your organization be more effective and create community impact, read this.