Violence and Evaluation: Why It Matters To Document Progress

My preferred field of research is in informal economies. This means, often, that information is very limited, existing data sets can be misleading, not cleaned up well, or just not complete. Unfortunately, a lot of the existing research is based on anecdotal evidence — I can prove some of the theories that I work with… after hours of compiling data from individual sources into my own data sets. Or going into the field and painstakingly collecting it myself.

I find that working with non-profits, especially those interested in reducing violence, yields similar challenges. The groups I work with and think about often devote their resources to the issues they are trying to address, which might make sense in the short term… but then we also run into issues where we can’t scale solutions or improve development models because there was never a system to document progress before/after a program was implemented and/or measure the impact that program had on the specific target groups over time.

What do I mean by this? Look at Ciudad Juarez. The documented homicide rate has decreased significantly since 2010, there has been a ton of investment in local social programs, the military left the policing programs to local police forces… but what worked? Many things happened at once. Which social programs were most effective and why? How do all of these changes in the local fabric of the city interact with one another? What failed? And what were the negative side effects of these changes? What are we not seeing in these new numbers? How do we evaluate “positive change?”

It’s nice that sometimes there is enough clear data from different accounts that we can draw some conclusions after the fact. Sometimes, we receive anecdotes that offer enough context that we can compare data from one story to data from another. This is an extremely slow process — compiling data from anecdotes and interviews, but it is possible.

I would love to see groups in all spheres of development, violence reduction, public investment, etc. being trained to document their findings better and making these records public. That would, of course, require them to disclose when their programs were not working… which is another public branding issue for non-profits, but would, overall, ensure that we can find better programs that really can scale to bring positive change.

A girl can dream.

TEDActive Takes Barbara Corcoran’s Entrepreneur IQ Test

TEDActive attendees are a creative bunch — we come together once a year to celebrate ideas and get to know a larger community of thinkers from around the world. We are designers, teachers, organizers, business owners, students, and more.

Yesterday, Barbara Corcoran offered TEDActive attendees a chance to measure the “entrepreneurial strength” of this community.

Barbara gave a talk at TEDYou describing six personality traits she looks for when she invests in start ups, through her own personal investments and as a judge on Shark Tank. These traits included resilience (the ability to bounce back from failure), street smarts (ability to think quickly and react), big picture thinking, charisma, competitive drive, and people smarts.

Barbara has developed a short Entrepreneur IQ survey that she uses to draw attention to some of the strengths and weaknesses of potential entrepreneurs. The survey has 10 questions, designed to measure how an individual makes decisions, how they interact with their co-workers and potential clients, how they adjust to failure, and how they develop their ideas or find new opportunities. Scores on this survey can range from 0-10.

The survey was offered on Thursday morning, after TEDYou, and closed around 4pm. During this time, we were able to survey 15% of our total attendees and staff list.

Some of the questions were: Think about your best ideas. Where do they come from? How do you set goals for yourself? Think about your busiest times (when people said “you can never do all that”). How did you get it all done?

TEDActive Attendees did very well on this survey! We found that 56% of our attendees scored within the range that Barbara Corcoran denotes as “strong candidates.” The average score for our attendees was 7.5. [Strong Candidates are individuals who scored 8-10 on their survey]

Distribution of Scores from TEDActive Entrepreneur IQ survey
Distribution of Scores from TEDActive Entrepreneur IQ survey

TEDActive Attendees are risk takers — 92% of respondents said that they would make moves to pursue new opportunities, even when friends and family told them it was “risky.”

A similar 92% of our respondents agreed that new teammates and partners should be selected based on fit rather than result/qualifications or a pre-determined set of metrics for personality/resume.

The biggest differences in the community came from the questions addressing how people manage resources. Questions 7 and 8 discuss recovering from failures/setbacks and managing time during particularly busy projects. Question 9 tried to gauge how people identify and pursue new opportunities as they appear. The question on failure, in particular, received a wider range of answers than many of the other questions regarding resource allocation, team building and decision making.

The quiz offered multiple choice answers to each of the ten questions and is written in Barbara’s voice. This adds to the fun!  We share these results as part of the fun of this particular experiment.

We hope that you all had fun with it!


I wrote the original post for TEDActive 2015, and it was published on the TEDActive Blog.

I am hoping to continue working with Barbara and her team on refining the surveys and producing a larger scale study of what she values in the entrepreneurs that she invests in. I think this has potential to spark some really interesting conversations… more soon.


What does it mean to be a mentor? To be guided by a mentor?

These questions have come up in conversation for me numerous times in the last few months. Really, from both ends.

We hosted a salon in my apartment back in January on the theme of Mentorship: Where have mentors been helpful to you? Where do you find them? What do you ask them? And because we have a group of people coming from very different fields (academics, students, artists, writers, economists, consultants, graphic designers, etc.), we got very different answers for each field. The conversation was rich with different types of questions and guidance that we were looking for from our mentors or future mentors.

A couple of friends have reached out to me in the last few months and connected me to friends or asked me to talk to them about how I have done my job search/career search process. It is interesting to be on this side of this, since I did not graduate all that long ago and I feel that I am still learning to navigate many things. Of course, I said yes, I would talk to friends and their friends about what I am looking for and how I approached applications or looking for new opportunities.

This may be made more interesting by the fact that I switched jobs a handful of times in the last three months. I left a stable think tank job to work on a start up building software for contact tracing in the Ebola crisis, then I was freelancing as a researcher and doing a handful of different things… and finally, I took a job with the TED Content team (which I am loving and am really excited about). I’m not traditional in any sense, and a lot of my struggle with this has been finding a space that understands why I am obsessed with informal economies and constantly learning new things. TED is the perfect space for me to be right now, especially because I love the team I work with. Every single one of them.

A little over a month ago, however, when friends were beginning their “should I switch jobs” conversations with me, I felt I was unable to offer more than a kind ear and some questions, because I, too, was in flux. Perhaps the difference this time around was that I was not afraid. I had found ways that I could depend on myself and think on my feet that were new to me. I was beginning to really define my strengths and see places where I could work on my weaknesses to keep growing and being a better teammate. I also developed my 2015 roadmap and new goals for job searching (pre-TED) by what I wanted to learn this year and through the next few years (both in hard and soft skills).

I watched the “quarter-life crisis” as a friend called it, when she asked me to breakfast, dumped her doubts on the table, and asked if we could sort through them. And we did. Did she leave with a clear answer about what was next? No. But she did leave with a better sense of what she wanted to learn, and perhaps a handful of places that she would be able to do that.

This year I’ve been watching consultant and banking friends ask me, “what is next?” and “how did you find places to do what you do?”

My more non-profit oriented friends asking, “how do I handle the burn out when the cause isn’t enough to get my out of bed on frozen February mornings?”

And now students asking me, “where should I start looking?”

Last night I opened my email from an organization that I decided to volunteer with run by the Yale Latino Alumni Association introducing me to a short description of the freshman that I will be “mentoring.” My mentors have provided me with ideas about what is out there, helped me think through how I explain what I do and have to offer… and kept me positive when I went through long cycles of rejection after interview after interview. Something I had not dealt with in the same kind of rapid succession… really ever in my life before.

I think what I’ve learned about mentorship is that sometimes it’s about being that kind ear and asking questions to refine the narrative coming out of a person… and sometimes it is saying, We’re going to make a list of things you want to learn and people you think are badass. How do you want to get there.

I hope I can do a good job. Like the strong women who have guided me to where I am today.