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Focusing on the immediate outcomes of discrete interventions can distract from bigger-picture systems thinking.

Focusing on the immediate outcomes of discrete interventions can distract from bigger-picture systems thinking.

WellAhead’s learning and evaluation framework included three levels of inquiry:

  • Prototypes: Are everyday practices an effective means of achieving integration of wellbeing in schools? 
  • Systems Change: How does integration of wellbeing happen at the school and systems levels? 
  • Design/Development: How can WellAhead achieve the greatest impact?

Our intent was to focus mostly on the shifts and changes that were happening at the district level and how they might be linked to WellAhead’s intervention. 

In practice, our efforts in the pilot districts ended up being heavily weighted towards the evaluation of the everyday practices themselves. This produced data about the effectiveness of simple, everyday efforts in influencing student wellbeing, which was useful information both for educators and for the WellAhead team. However, the energy we spent focusing on prototypes detracted from our ability to observe and learn from changes at the system-level. 

As a philanthropic foundation, we typically fund and partner with organizations working on the ground, rather than deliver interventions ourselves at the school or district level. This may be for good reason, as we found that our direct interaction with prototypes at the school level made it difficult to stand back, be objective, and look at the big picture. As a result, we missed out on important cues around how change was happening at the school and district level and whether the momentum and learnings generated by everyday practices actually had the potential to lead to better integration of wellbeing in schools. 

In SD 61 Greater Victoria, teachers, administrators and community partners saw the importance of prioritizing social and emotional wellbeing in the broadest sense. While the focus on teacher and student data from 2 x 10 allowed them to have “evidence” for their practice, we together became so focused on capturing data from prototypes that we missed opportunities to more systematically track developments at the district level. For example, during that period, the district decided to fund the Middle Development Instrument, a population-level tool that measures student self-reported wellbeing and uses this to guide school and community decision-making. In the absence of a broader, more systemic perspective, we missed the opportunity to capture why and how this decision was made and the ways in which this choice reflected and advanced integration of wellbeing in Greater Victoria.