Blueprint for a Dream

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Blueprint for a Dream: Help Us Rethink Impact

Willimantic, United StatesWillimantic, United States
Year Founded:
2012
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Start-Up
Budget: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We use data to rethink, reboot, and scale social impact by partnering with nonprofit, government, and business leaders. We create interactive web apps that function as blueprints for designing or strengthening community programs, building partnerships, and acquiring the resources to sustain them.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if the Social Sector relied on data-driven blueprints to design and implement programs and services?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The Social Sector supports 50+ million people in the U.S. alone. Nonprofits and government agencies spend over $5 trillion to meet community needs each year. Yet, there is no standard way for using data to plan for and demonstrate the impact of their spending. Expertise and technology are expensive and out of reach, especially when the average nonprofit budget is below $500,000. The Social Sector needs affordable, user-friendly data tools.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Almost 100% of nonprofits are collecting data, but fewer than half use it to improve outcomes for their clients, increase fundraising, or strengthen communications. If we combine user feedback with data about social issues, the communities they affect, and the partners working to solve them, then we can design intuitive blueprints that guide Social Sector leaders toward positive change and sustainable impact. We use blueprints to rethink complex social problems, reboot the programs that solve them, and help scale good ideas to meet society's needs. Including partners in the design phase ensures our tools are user-friendly. Once built, our products are freely available online and easily updated to keep information accurate and meaningful.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Nonprofit service providers wanted to understand the issues facing residents in Connecticut’s Windham Region and develop a strategy for creating more affordable housing and ending homelessness. Blueprint for a Dream met with the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness and outlined a system that links policy makers, nonprofits, and businesses to the data they need to have a greater impact. We started in Jan. 2013 and worked for 9 months. First, we had our partners imagine the perfect tool. Next, we reviewed open data sets to learn what they thought was the most useful. Third, we tested and shaped a website based on user feedback. The final product, Blueprint for Housing, was a mobile, user-friendly data tool that helps them meet their mission.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Our first product, Blueprint for Housing, has already been used to help acquire over $2 million for affordable housing. As a residual benefit, the process of creating the data tool has strengthened local partnerships and clarified their vision of success. Immediately after we launched it, we began planning to scale the website to cover all 169 towns in Connecticut. Blueprint for a Dream is in the unique position to have multiple layers of impact. Whether it is a program, an organization, or a partnership, we are able to help Social Sector organizations rethink, reboot, and scale their impact. The challenge of our mission is that our success is measured by the achievement of our partners. Our services have an intangible impact until people begin to use them. As Blueprint for a Dream grows, we plan to use web analytics and surveys to track users, system adoption, and utilization.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We plan to use our first product as a concept to help a variety of social programs working at the local, state, national, or global level. Over time, we want our blueprint model to become a standard that leaders use to assess the needs, assets, and cultural dynamics of a community in order to have lasting social impact. Nonprofit, government, or social enterprise programs can all be strengthened with the guidance of a blueprint. We rely heavily on tracking project cost/time and user experience to maintain a solid foundation of data and experience upon which to build successful future products.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have engineered sustainability through three unique aspects: 1) subscription to and sale of our community blueprint technology, which is highly profitable, while being as low as 1/10 the cost of traditional technology services for civil society organizations; 2) developing a data set that adds value as an asset and attracts investment; 3) offering consulting services on social impact. These revenue sources will allow us to meet growing demand.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are many businesses and nonprofits offering data and IT services to the Social Sector. Blueprint for a Dream belongs to an emerging field called Civic Tech; meaning we use technology to achieve civic goals, like Code for America and Ushahidi. As a social enterprise, we stand out for our mission to use data to change the way leaders think about social impact. Our commitment to design user-friendly tools, at an affordable price point, uniquely requires us to build strong relationships with our partners to ensure that they are comfortable providing us with the feedback we need to grow.
Team

Founding Story

While serving as an Americorps VISTA, I discovered that data could have a profound effect on how nonprofits coordinate their work. I saw that good data could change the way community leaders understood a problem and worked together to address local needs. However, I learned they weren't using data because it was too challenging and expensive. I acquired a trial software license (valued at $25,000) to manage data for the Nonprofit Alliance of Northeast Connecticut (NANC). After months of work, the system was still too complex for the partners to adopt. A year later NANC gave up, and I began searching for ways to build a data tool that nonprofits wanted to use, because it was affordable and tailored to meet the needs that they identify.

Team

Currently, our team has one active leader, with a set of advisers. Chris Brechlin builds relationships, designs the data tools, and manages the business. Chris Carvache is an expert web developer who advises Brechlin on design and programming. Rebecca Reyes is a nonprofit tech and Communications Manager who advises in online community building and outreach. Recently, we have begun to acquire new clients and will be hiring staff in coming months.
About You
Organization:
Blueprint for a Dream
About You
First Name

Christopher D.

Last Name

Brechlin

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Blueprint for a Dream

Organization Country

, CT, Willimantic

Country where this project is creating social impact

, CT, Willimantic

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Impact
Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

We plan to use our first product as a concept to help a variety of social programs working at the local, state, national, or global level. Over time, we want our blueprint model to become a standard that leaders use to assess the needs, assets, and cultural dynamics of a community in order to have lasting social impact. Nonprofit, government, or social enterprise programs can all be strengthened with the guidance of a blueprint. We rely heavily on tracking project cost/time and user experience to maintain a solid foundation of data and experience upon which to build successful future projects.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

One assumption that may be a barrier to success is our belief that our clients will be better off by making data easier to use and more affordable to access. In setting up Blueprint for a Dream we interviewed potential clients to learn how our services might help. We discovered that it will be very important to get regular feedback from them as we grow to ensure the usability of our products. Another potential barrier is that our business model may not remain viable over time. To remedy this, we hope to establish multiple revenue streams that utilize our expertise with data and social impact.

Sustainability
Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

Blueprint for a Dream was able to develop its first product with generous support from the Liberty Bank and SI Financial Group Foundations. We convened and interviewed the partners that comprise the Windham Region Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, which range from housing/homeless service providers to landlords and municipal planners.

Without input from partners to translate the data and design the website, we would not have been successful.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Create an environment where people give feedback freely.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

At each phase of product development, Blueprint for a Dream uses direct and indirect feedback to improve our data tools, thereby increasing utilization rates and improving the chances that our clients will use the data to maximize their social impact. First, we interview our partners to gather their wants/needs, then we prototype and continue to solicit feedback to validate our product features. Finally, we rely on web analytics to track user habits and continually enhance our products. If we build user-friendly systems, then it will be easier community leaders to make data-driven decisions.

Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?

English.

2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

In developing community blueprints we never assume that we are the experts. Instead we rely on the perspective and needs of users to design the best tool for them. Two different social good organizations are rarely run the same way and we therefore need to ascertain which data will be most helpful to them, how often they need to access it, and the technical capacity they have to interact with the data in our system. We then use the information we gather about users and community organizations to significant adjustments to the structure of our charts, maps, data sources, and other data tools. If we make the user experience pleasant and productive, then civil society will be more inclined to use data to drive social impact in its work.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Improve quality of programs

If other, please specify
What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

Website, Physical gathering, Other.

If other, please specify

Website & User Analytics

Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

We directly ask a wide range of potential users how various design elements – like layout and function - will impact their experience and ability to get the information they need by facilitating focus groups and interviews. Our community blueprints are used by nonprofit, for-profit, and government leaders, so it is important for us to make sure that they are easy to navigate and utilize. We also use more indirect methods like surveys and website analytics to analyze user habits and monitor traffic patterns whenever they visit our websites.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

Option to provide feedback anonymously

If other, please specify
What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?

Other

If other, please specify

Reduced Cost, Increased Usability

How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?

Specific targeted outreach efforts

If other, please specify
What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?

Other

If other, please specify

Maximize Their Social Impact

How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?

Meetings discussing results with providers

If other, please specify
How is feedback published/transparent?

On a website

If other, please specify
Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

Before we built Blueprint for Housing to help the Windham Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness advocate for affordable housing, service providers were not able to prove that the community needed more housing. They would site the number of homeless residents and the 20.5% poverty rate, but they weren’t able to articulate that 47.8% of all households were struggling to afford rent or a mortgage. Now they will always have access to the most accurate and timely data, without any additional cost to attain it.

Local landlords in the Windham Area of Connecticut needed access to good data to make smart investments in the region. Their investments would increase overall property values and the taxes that support schools and services would increase, eventually helping to make the community more vibrant. We tailored our housing data tool to meet their needs as well as the service providers so that all the local leaders could work together to create more housing and prevent homelessness.

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

One major barrier to making our feedback loop effective is the lack of general awareness in the community about how the technology works. For example, if want I want to design the most intuitive data tool for social service providers, one that is also affordable, I cannot currently rely exclusively on their feedback. Often, technology users may be able to articulate what they think is needed, but are unaware of the way they actually interface with it. To improve this, I would do a better job educating community members on the benefits of the technology and how to use all of the features. This would improve their knowledge of our data systems, and in turn make it easier for them to articulate which aspects are helping them and which are not.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

An “expert paradigm” where the perspectives on “non-experts” is not valued

If other, please specify
Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

No, but I can see myself using it as a resource

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

The Feedback Store has the potential to help lift good ideas out from within the noise. An example is the rating system that is built into in each profile. It can be hard to differentiate a successful idea from one that has good marketing. The programs and ideas that are achieving tangible results around the world will be highlighted as examples of best practices.

It will also be helpful to share additional best practices in how to test feedback loops in communities that may be resistant or how to partner with government, even when corrupt officials are an obstacle.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

The feedback section is very helpful. I was able to isolate the area most in need of improvement. However, some of the recommendations were not helpful because of a lack of clarity. For example, “Sustainability” was highlighted as an issue with my application, and the examples provided as strong in that category, actually had no plan to generate revenue besides a hope they would get grants. By contrast, my project has a revenue stream. Both implied a hope, but some more detail to explain what could be more sustainable about my application would have been very helpful.

What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?

We like to let our community members know that their feedback has helped to shape the tools they are using. In the public meetings where we run a focus group to ask for feedback, we will often recognize the contributions from community members. After each meeting, we will post the minutes online so that any changes can be documented and available to the local partners. In addition, when we launched Blueprint for Housing, we hosted a large event and brought all of our partners up to the front of the room to highlight their leadership among the statewide housing advocacy organizations.

Comments

Christopher D. Brechlin's picture

Hello!

Please help me understand how you use data in your work.

How does data help you understand the problem you are trying to solve?

How do you use data to demonstrate the impact of you work?

I'm always trying to learn from the experience of other. Please share as much as you are able.

Thank you!
-cb.

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