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From The CriticsReviewer: Benn Greenspan, PhD, MPH/MHA(University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health)
Description: This is an intriguing insight into the strategic thinking of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its grant-making programs. The book discusses key issues like learning from mistakes; the role of communication in successful strategy; and how strategic orientation of grant-making affects program success.
Purpose: The editors of this anthology have set out to honor the foundation's commitment to public accountability. This work is intended to assist others in the business of making grants (and also those who propose to achieve societal change through such programs) learn from the foundation's experience. This is an important effort that shares a substantial wealth of experience in an accessible, easy to read, and enthusiastic way. Where the book falls short of meeting its objectives is in structural inconsistencies that provide a level of interpretation in some sections but not in others.
Audience: While the book set out to serve foundation leaders and other practitioners in the human services fields, its open journalistic style makes it eminently accessible to students and other interested audiences at many levels. The benefits of this open style outweigh any appearance of lesser credibility created by the inclusion of many professional communicators in what is essentially an evaluative work.
Features: The four sections of the book cover critical topics related to learning from the foundation's efforts to achieve its goals. These include: the importance of openly examining mistakes; the role of communication strategy in executing foundation strategies and achieving foundation goals; how reducing substance abuse became a significant goal as the result of recognizing the role of individual lifestyle in improving health; and a brief look at two innovative programs aimed at improving communication to improve health and healthcare. The journalistic style of the book is at its best in the rapid sharing of the concepts, success, and failure of the many foundation initiatives. It also works well in helping readers understand the deliberation involved in strategic adaptation within the foundation.
Assessment: This is a welcome addition to the more formal literature about planning and strategy in the fields of human services and philanthropy. While setting out to provide transparency about the thinking and decision-making within the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the book includes discussions and examples that illuminate strategic thinking processes in general. Its journalistic style and discussions about how specific issues like leadership succession affect strategy will make it very useful in the graduate school classroom.