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Results and Samples of Our Work

Below are some examples of the kinds of issues our clients have asked us to address, with links to the final product we produced for them.

1. Case Studies
2. Issue Briefs and Tool Kits
3. "Translating" Research and Evaluation into Clear English
4. Website Writing and Editing
5. Lessons Learned Reports
6. Grants Results Reports


1. Case Studies

Client: The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa

The Problem: The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (Partnership), one of the longest running funder collaboratives of its kind, wanted to capture the key lessons learned from this $500 million, 10-year program. This complex collaborative involved seven of the largest U.S. foundations (Ford, Hewlett, MacArthur, Rockefeller, Kresge, Carnegie and Mellon), worked across nine countries with five time zones and necessitated collaboration among funders with strikingly different cultures. Partnership participants wanted a clearly written case study that provided practical and nuanced advice to others seeking to work in similar funder collaboratives.

The Solution: We interviewed more than 30 participants including foundation presidents, program staff and grantees to create a case study that tells the story of the successes and challenges of this collaborative. We took the initiative to make sure that once the case study was complete it was broadly disseminated to key audiences as well. As one example, we wrote a short article describing the case study for the Alliance magazine that included a link to the full study.

The Results: Suzanne Grant Lewis, the Partnership coordinator who oversaw the case study said, "Susan did wonderful work for the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. Everyone, including the most demanding of my foundation colleagues, were pleased with her clear and concise writing. The case study is honest and tactful. Susan has astounding skills in collecting, collating and synthesizing information."

click here for the case study   click here for Alliance article

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Client: The U.S. Department of Justice

The Problem: The client, the U.S. Justice Department, wanted to showcase one of the country's largest and longest standing programs that serves victims of crime. The program sprawled across every part of the big-city police department where it was located. This program was a model in the country but it had grown so big with so many moving parts that it was hard for even the director to clearly describe it.

The Solution: We decided to tell the story of this victim's service program by describing the events that occurred after an actual crime was committed. We asked the director to relate a story of a crime that touched on all the divisions of the victim services department. We then illustrated the program by describing the events that occurred after a horrifying triple murder and how members of the victim services program participated - from accompanying the police on their initial calls to the crime scene, through the investigation, court trial and conviction of the man who killed the three victims.

The Results: We designed a special report that brought to life the work of this large and complex victim services department. This became an official publication of the U.S. Justice department. The bulletin provided a real world example of how victim services departments can help victims, police departments and the larger communities. It also gave suggestions for building a victim services unit, grounded in the 20 years of experience of this program.
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Client: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Problem: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded two national programs to attempt to lessen the problem of underage drinking. Midway through the funding, the foundation wanted to see how the programs were working, and report on their results so far to practitioners in the field.

The Solution: We traveled around the country and interviewed participants--including school officials, community organizers, bar owners, police, community drug agencies and students--to learn more about how this project was unfolding and what difference, if any, it was making. We also interviewed evaluators and other experts in the field to provide context for this ambitious program.  

The Results:  We wrote a chapter for the RWJF Anthology book that detailed the reasoning behind the programs and the results so far.  We synthesized what we learned into this chapter, which includes observations for the future. RWJF distributed the chapter widely to practitioners and researchers in an effort to be as open as possible about how two of its signature programs were faring halfway through their work.

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2. Issue Briefs and Tool Kits

Client: The Colorado Trust

The Problem: The Colorado Trust has invested heavily in building early childhood systems so that families can get services that they need. But Trust officials were frustrated because they felt that they weren't communicating the importance of this work to key audiences, including their board. Trust officials needed to translate this important and abstract topic into something tangible so that their board members and policy makers could understand how “system building” makes a difference in the lives of real people.

The Solution: We teamed up with a nationally known evaluator who has created a model of system building. Using her model as the basis for the brief, we interviewed young mothers and providers throughout Colorado who described the frustrating barriers they encounter in trying to get even the simplest of services--such as a doctor’s appointment or a referral to a specialist. We told the story of this complex system through the eyes of one woman who struggled to get care for her young children.

The Results: We wrote an issue brief for the Colorado Trust that they have distributed widely and that met their goals of making system building real and understandable. Shortly after the brief was published, early childhood experts in another state read it and asked us to write them a similar one so that they could also better explain system building to their key leaders.

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Client: The Ford Foundation

The Problem: In 2009, the Ford Foundation was the largest foundation funder encouraging a full and accurate count of the 2010 Census, particularly among groups that are traditionally undercounted--such as people of color and people with low incomes. Foundation officials felt it was vital that other funders join in the effort as well. Because the census takes place once a decade, many funders were unaware of the importance of an accurate count. To help them, Ford commissioned a tool kit. But the tool kit was an unwieldy 100 pages, full of jargon and had few tools for foundations to use.

The Solution: The Ford Foundation hired us to pare the tool kit down to an easy-to-use 16-page document. We cut the document down to the most critical information a funder needed to know. The revised tool kit added a call-to-action at the beginning so that funders would immediately know the three most important steps they should take. It made the case for why foundations should care about an accurate count and included hyperlinks to existing materials--such as sample letters to the editor--so that it was easy for funders to quickly become involved in the 2010 Census.

The Results: Ford Program Officer Thomasina Williams said, “The tool kit does a brilliant job in getting to the essence of the message that we wanted to communicate. To me what was most impressive was your ability to distill the 100 page document down to the essence in a compelling way that was crisp and easily accessible to those who didn’t know anything about the census.”

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3. "Translating" Evaluation and Research into Clear English

Client: The California Endowment and the James Irvine Foundation

The Problem: The California Endowment funded education researchers and the James Irvine Foundation funded health researchers to produce one paper on the critical importance of kids coming to school healthy and well-nourished so that they can better learn. The paper they received was unclear, full of jargon and did not get the message across to policy makers. After the researchers had revised the paper several times with no success, the foundations asked us to get the paper into shape for an upcoming legislative briefing.

The Solution: We worked closely with the researchers to re-think the presentation of the paper, collected additional data and re-wrote the paper in a policy brief that both research groups, all three foundations and the legislative liaison were pleased with. 

The Results: The foundations used the paper as their key briefing document in a legislative hearing of California lawmakers. According to a senior program officer at the California Endowment, the paper made a compelling case to lawmakers and encouraged them to address the issue of health and student success.

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Client: The University of Wisconsin at Madison

The Problem: Our client, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, needed help translating an article about technology and recovery from substance abuse into plain English. The report they had received was about a high-level think tank conference in which participants gave their best ideas for how emerging technology could help people recover from substance abuse. But our client was frustrated because a draft report had language that was too technical and did not clearly explain the meaning of the futuristic technology. Our client's key messages were getting lost.

The Solution: We talked to the project director to understand the main points that were important to get across. He clarified many questions, and with our prodding, added more details to flesh out stories to illustrate the technology.

The Results: Our piece became a chapter in a journal that our client's target audience read. The director wrote to us to say, "You did an absolutely outstanding job! You turned a lousy draft into a great document."

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Client: The James Irvine Foundation

The Problem: The James Irvine Foundation had funded researchers to carry out a project that provided an important new tool for policymakers and education officials to use in helping more California high school students attend California public universities. But the tool was hard to immediately grasp, especially as described by the researchers who had carried out the project. The researchers were testing a service that electronically evaluated high school transcripts to help students, particularly low-income students, make sure they had taken the right classes for admission into California public universities.

Researchers attempted to describe the service in several versions of a paper submitted to Irvine. But the Irvine program officer felt that the drafts did not clearly describe the service or the compelling results for policy makers or educators.

The Solution: We worked with the paper’s authors to re-think how best to present the information, interviewed them and several other participants and re-wrote the brief.

The Results:  Here is what David Stern, professor of education emeritus, University of California, Berkeley and one of the original authors, said about the results:  “Susan: it was a pleasure working with you -- and  a good recommendation by Irvine.  Your outside perspective enabled you to see what needed to be explained for other readers.  I'm impressed by how quickly you were able to understand these issues, and how well you assembled a clear, concise explanation.”

The paper, which Irvine widely distributed to policymakers and education officials, met its goal of providing an easy-to-understand and compelling explanation of an important new tool to assist more California high school students to enroll California public universities, according to the Irvine senior program officer.

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4. Website Writing and Editing

Client: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Problem: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were undergoing a major revision of their website and wanted to use this opportunity to communicate openly about their grant making process and what they were learning in their work. The world’s largest foundation was still in the midst of growing and defining itself, so it was a challenge to clearly communicate the way they approached their work and made decisions on what to fund.

The Solution: We helped Gates’ staff members think about ways that they might talk about their work on the new website, suggested alternatives, and interviewed key members of foundation staff to capture, for the first time, the process and approach of the foundation’s grant making.

The Results:  We helped create a new section of the Gates Foundation website, “What We’re Learning” that provides an overview of their grantmaking process in a web-friendly manner and includes some of their most significant work. For the first time, the foundation had a clear explanation of their approach to grantmaking for the hundreds of thousands of visitors that go to their website. The process of needing to describe their work clearly also helped Gates staff better articulate what they do, several staff members said. 

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Client: The Atlantic Philanthropies

The Problem: The Atlantic Philanthropies was in the midst of creating a new website for their organization and quickly needed several new pages of content. In recent years, the foundation has put an emphasis on openness about their grant making. They needed new web pages that described for the first time the motivation of their donor Chuck Feeney, a modest man who gave his multi-billion fortune to start the foundation. They also needed  pages that clearly described their new emphasis on social justice and their commitment to share what they were learning.

The Solution: With a short deadline of two weeks, we immersed ourselves in Atlantic’s history and background and wrote 14 new pages that required little editing.

The Results: Atlantic staff were so pleased with the results that they asked us to write more than 100 blurbs that engagingly and concisely described the Atlantic’s research, evaluations and speeches.  We suggested that we make these blurbs do double duty. They could both describe the report or speech as well as highlight something interesting to entice people to read more. In both projects, Atlantic staff said our writing provided the clarity and enticing copy that they needed to better tell the story of their foundation.

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5. Lessons Learned Reports

Client: The American Medical Association

The Problem : Our client, the American Medical Association (AMA), wanted to capture and distill the lessons learned from an 8-year, $20 million program. The program established state coalitions around the country to reduce underage drinking and our client oversaw its implementation. The program was drawing to a close and our client worried that much of the coalitions' successful work would go unnoticed.

The Solution: To capture the key lessons from this ambitious and innovative project we created a comprehensive guidebook for other communities that want to start coalitions. We interviewed more than 40 participants - including the people who designed the program, those who oversaw it, those who ran it and even those opposed to the idea. These in-depth interviews yielded rich details about how to implement a difficult and often controversial program.

We condensed the information into 11 steps coalitions could use to start a successful coalition. We contracted with a graphic designer to create an appealing and eye-catching piece that was easy to read and follow.

The Results: The AMA uses the guide as its key document to sustain the work of this successful national program. They distributed more than 10,000 copies of the guidebook. One coalition, after receiving a few copies, asked for additional 500 to help it in its work. The funder said that the guide met a critical goal - to provide a step-by-step guide of successful programs that can help others do this work.
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Client: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Problem: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded ten hospitals and challenged them to transform their culture in ways that attracted and retained nurses and provided better patient care. The foundation, which was looking for solutions to address the nursing shortage, needed to capture the stories and lessons learned from these innovative and diverse hospitals to share with the field.

The Solution: We interviewed key participants at all ten hospitals, as well as RWJF program officers. We used the interviews to both tell the story of the ups and downs of cultural transformation at each hospital, and to synthesize lessons learned on the broader issue of hospital cultural change. 

The Results: The report provides practical lessons learned during this effort to change hospital culture over a short period. It tells the stories of individual hospital’s struggles and successes as well. By providing this key document, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped hospitals seeking to address the nursing shortage learn from their innovative peers.

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6. Grants Results Reports

Client: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Problem: In 1996, our client, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), embarked on an experiment to become more open and transparent about the results of its grantmaking. Foundation officials put the word out to look for qualified writers who could produce reports that clearly explained the outcomes of RWJF's grants - the problems they addressed, the results they accomplished and the lessons for the field they produced.

The reports had to be written in plain English without sacrificing accuracy. They had to synthesize reams of documents produced by grantees into a succinct summary. The reports also had to chart a difficult course of being open about problems in projects without overwhelming readers with extraneous detail.

The Solution: We were among the first writers that RWJF hired for this new project. Over the years, we provided ideas about new ways to approach these grants results reports. We encouraged RWJF staff to adopt more storytelling in their reports, which they did. We regularly take the initiative to conduct additional interviews to make sure we capture the full scope of the work we write about.

In one project, for example, RWJF provided a grant for a university to train health staff to help others reduce health disparities at federal health centers. We suggested that we interview several people who went through the training to learn more about it—specifically whether it worked and had a lasting impact. The interviews were eye opening. Some people thought the training was on target while others felt it was a waste of time. The interviews brought a depth to the report that we would not have had otherwise.

The Results: We've produced more than 125 grants results reports for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, many of which were on RWJF's most complicated and contentious programs.   With these reports, foundation staff and others in the field have clear descriptions of the results and lessons learned of multi-million programs funded by one of the country’s largest foundations.

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