Oct. 12, 2019 — Siuslaw Vision, with its focus on active, connected, creative, educated, happy and working people, has now started to look at the impact these areas have on the day to day lives of the 18,000 people living in the Siuslaw region of Florence, Mapleton, Dunes City, Swisshome, Deadwood and unincorporated areas.
“After a couple years, the Vision was interested in seeing what impact its work was having,” said Vision Team member Londi Tomaro in a presentation last month. “The team had certain ideas about what their work was doing, but wanted to see if that was actually happening.”
Specifically, the Vision Team selected “Educated People,” with an emphasis on lifelong learning, as the topic for evaluation.
According to Siuslaw Vision Coordinator Stephanie Sarles, “We discovered that learning is very personal and people are looking for it to apply to exactly what they want to learn in their lives. It’s everything from watching a YouTube video on how to change a tire to sitting in a college class. People are learning in a lot of different ways, too, and some people prefer just learning on their own at home, checking a book out from the library or researching on the internet, while others really like the social aspect of it. It can be very broad.”
Working with The Ford Family Foundation and consultants from Dialogues in Action, the Siuslaw Vision initiated the evaluation process in 2018, ultimately instructing 13 community members on how to conduct qualitative interviews.
“Dialogues in Action works on measuring things that are difficult to measure, like nonprofit work, education or groups who have a bigger impact on the community than just the numbers,” Sarles said.
The impact team met with Dialogues in Action for four hours each month as they learned about the evaluation process. The team was made up of a diverse population from the Siuslaw region, with members from Upriver, businesses, nonprofits, governments and those who work with schools.
“We had two goals,” Sarles said. “One was to introduce the community to an alternative method of evaluation that might get more to the heart of what nonprofits are doing, and two, to evaluate the Vision’s impact on education in the region.”
Tomaro added, “We wanted to know if the Vision was impacting people’s ability to continue lifelong learning, and the community’s ability to support lifelong learning. Measuring things like that is not easy. You can’t just count numbers.”
While the project did include a 116-response quantitative survey, Dialogues in Action led the Vision in a qualitative evaluation, looking for people’s personal connections to education, learning and the Siuslaw region itself.
“Basically, we’re trying to get to what people really believe about themselves and education deep down,” Sarles said. “It’s more than ‘How many classes did you participate in last year?’ and more like ‘How has education changed who you are as a person?’ It’s much deeper than your typical evaluation.”
The 13 team members conducted three to four interviews, each about an hour long, to get the information. Respondents were made up of people from different income levels, job history, time in the region, gender and age. A total of 37 respondents were included.
Tomaro said the in-depth interviews sought “to get past the surface and into the deeper layers” of people’s beliefs. Some respondents were emotional, and all talked about a value for education.
“In general,” Sarles said, “we discovered that our Siuslaw residents love and value learning and what it provides for them. They believe education is the key to whatever they want.”
Once the interviews were complete, the Project Impact team went over the findings and grouped them into 11 components: 1. Education is the Key, 2. Choose Your Own Learning Adventure, 3. RSVP to Learn, 4. Everybody Needs a Learning Buddy, 5. The Early Bird Gets the Learn, 6. It’s Not Just the Money, 7. We’re All in This Together, 8. You, As a Teacher, 9. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, 10. The Awareness-Engagement Feedback Loop and 11. Connecting the Dots. They grouped these into three main branches: what inspires people to learn, what keeps people from learning and Ideas for engaging learners now and into the future.
“In the survey, there was a big focus on people finding what will be useful in their lives right now, whether its dietary for a health issue, or a home or car repair, but something they can use right away,” Tomaro said. “People feel that learning new things is the key to getting what they want out of life. We’re talking lifelong learning, so not always classroom settings, but any way that they can learn a new skill or find knowledge they can use.”
The full results, “The Impact of Education in the Siuslaw Region” were published in April 2019 and are now available for the community to read at www.rivercal.org/educationreport. In addition, Siuslaw Vision team members are taking the presentation to more community groups, including Mapleton School District next week.
There is a further takeaway for the Vision, especially as it looks at barriers people have to learning or even attending events.
“Most people like to have a personal invitation — when someone personally reaches out to them and says, ‘Hey, I’m going to this event. You want to come with me?’ That increases their comfort level,” Sarles said. “It also helps them learn from within their group of peers.”
The survey also showed continued interest in a community center for all ages. It would help generate more family-friendly events, raise kids in the understanding that learning can be a lifelong process and continue to unite people across multiple demographics.
“The more aware that people are of opportunities, and the more they go to them, the more likely they are to continue going to community events and learning opportunities,” Tomaro said. “Community connections that are built at these learning opportunities continue to build positive relationships and really build the fabric of the community.”
Increased social connectivity is important, Sarles suggested, because the Siuslaw region has such a great resource in its people. From native populations to pioneer families, to retirees and newcomers and kids who were born here, the people in the region remain the greatest untapped resource of knowledge.
“Community connections are very important,” she said.
And what’s next for Siuslaw Vision, besides finishing a strategic plan and solidifying its new vision?
“We’re trying to figure out how we can best serve the community,” Sarles said. “We’re looking at taking a more convening, connecting role. … As a team, we decided that the Vision’s purpose is ‘Building a Better Siuslaw Community Together.’ We wanted to make sure what we are doing is outward facing. Here’s what our community is doing.”
Using the results of the qualitative and quantitative education surveys, as well as what the Project Impact team learned from Dialogues in Action, “The hope is that now we have these 13 people trained in this method and that other projects might emerge from that,” Sarles said. “Whether that will happen, we’ll see, since that’s a pretty intense and lengthy process.”
In addition, the Vision is working to invite people to get involved — often with personal invitations, but also through its media partners and planned events.
“We’re making sure the community is empowered to get their ideas off the ground. What can we do to support that and make sure that is sustainable?” Sarles asked. “It’s important that the community energy is there to keep all of these wonderful projects going. … We want to make sure we’re helping people maximize those resources and connections.”
For more information about the Siuslaw Vision and its projects, visit www.rivercal.org. People who want to request a Project Impact presentation for their group can email [email protected].