Nothing to Hide: Irvine Shows How to Candidly Report Bad News
In 1999, the James Irvine Foundation launched Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning (CORAL), a major initiative to improve education achievement in low-performing schools in five California cities. Midway through the initiative, the foundation discovered that its $60 million reform effort was in danger of failing. Drawing on in-house expertise and outside experts, the Foundation studied the problem and made a series of mid-course corrections.
At the same time, Irvine decided it would not keep quiet about about the problems it encountered during the course of the initiative, but instead would issue a detailed report describing to the public what went wrong, steps taken to correct the problem, and lessons it learned.
In a foreword to the newly released report on the CORAL initiative, James Canales, Irvine president, notes that much of what foundations learn from their work “rarely gets captured or shared in any formal way.” Instead, says Canales, on those rare occasions when they do report on their work, “foundations are often criticized for focusing only on the good news and positive results.” In introducing Midcourse Corrections to a Major Initiative: A Report on the James Irvine CORAL Experience, Canales states, “This is not such a report.”
Instead, the report, which was written by Gary Walker President Emeritus of Public/Private Ventures, contains a “complicated and difficult story, for it reveals numerous shortcomings on the Foundation’s part. We felt compelled to share these lessons in the hope that others might benefit from this experience and avoid similar pitfalls.”
In keeping with the extreme candor of the report, Canales also writes that in 1999 when he was serving as vice president, he was part of the team that launched the initiative. Now the foundation’s president, he says: “I assume my share of the responsibility for how this initiative unfolded, and I sought to help in its reorientation.”