by Jim Reynolds and Tom Wilson, co-chairs, Get IN Chicago
originally published in The Chicago Tribune

The Sunday story “Emanuel-backed effort to fight violence falters” was highly critical of Get IN Chicago, a two year-old organization that enables the private sector to join in existing efforts to reduce the violence impacting Chicago’s youth. The article shows a lack of understanding of the deep-rooted problems facing violence reduction efforts. Specifically, the article concludes that Get IN Chicago has “inflated” claims about the money provided to help at-risk youth. Get IN Chicago has awarded $10.7 million in grants to support programs to help 8,368 at-risk youth and parents. Obviously not all of this could be appropriately spent on the day it was granted.

Nevertheless, the article compares grants awarded to cash disbursed to imply that Get IN Chicago is not making a difference in the city. The article also suggests social-service providers are not being treated fairly and grants are being improperly rescinded. There are organizations that didn’t receive funding because their good work is not aligned with our focus on mentoring, social-emotional learning and parent engagement in the city’s 18 most violent neighborhoods. Other organizations did not have measurable outcomes that could be evaluated by a pro-bono team of professional grant reviewers from some of the best foundations in the city. Get IN Chicago has provided feedback to organizations when their specific proposals were not accepted, enabling them to modify their approach should they apply for another grant.

Going even further, the article suggests Get IN Chicago’s measurement-driven approach is faltering. We completely disagree. Substantial progress already has been made in improving measurement. Today, many organizations we support have sound measurement of the outcomes they achieve in helping youth. Unfortunately, some organizations seeking funding did not keep attendance records, much less keep the other metrics to determine if programs were effective.
Measurement and accountability needs to be improved so private and public dollars are well spent. That’s why we have trained all of our grantees in the attendance-taking and data-collection software Cityspan, provided them with expert technical assistance in evidence-based programs and established learning communities through regular community-based meetings. As a result, we have not “largely abandoned” such efforts but instead have expanded and enhanced measurement efforts.

These efforts began with the University of Chicago Crime Lab and have since been expanded as the lack of significant sample size and acceptable data collection became obvious in working with grantees. We now also use Chapin Hall and NORC, both affiliated with the University of Chicago. The urgency we all feel and our desire for rapid improvement cannot displace the need for data-driven, effective and well-executed programs.

We are requiring sustainable results, not just activities that delay violence. We are also now pursuing innovative approaches such as bringing additional service providers to the targeted neighborhoods, and recently announced a $1 million innovation grant in conjunction with the MacArthur Foundation and a $360,000 youth tech grant with Smart Chicago.

While we are disappointed with the conclusions of your story, we welcome the spotlight on the need for measurement and accountability among those helping our youth. We believe in Chicago!

— Jim Reynolds and Tom Wilson, co-chairs, Get IN Chicago