New research on how to systematically improve mentoring programs through the implementation of evidence-based best practices
Community-based non-profit organizations rarely have access to research or evaluation evidence to inform their programs and often lack the capacity to gather or use this information independently. In 2016, Wisdom2Action—a network of knowledge mobilization (KMb) experts, policy makers and service providers across Canada—launched an inter-organizational mentorship program to facilitate the implementation and sharing of best and promising practices within community-based programs for young people. This article outlines the findings from a developmental evaluation of eight mentoring relationships. Drawing on the Promoting Action on Research in Health Sciences (PARiHS) model of KMb, we look at mentoring as a type of facilitation that supports the increased use of evidence and evaluation information by non-profit organizations and identify key themes that support effective organizational mentorship in this sector. Findings reinforce the importance of establishing connected relationships and understanding context in mentoring relationships, creating adaptive and responsive work plans, ensuring consistent communication, and maintaining a focus on capacity-building if knowledge mobilization is to occur.
Collaborative relationships are key to successful mentorship projects. The Wisdom2Action philosophy, by valuing the knowledge and expertise of all stakeholders, helped to foster and ensure the development of relationships that are particularly supportive and respectful. Both at the conceptualization stages of the mentoring relationship and throughout the mentorship process, the development and maintenance of strong interpersonal relationships between individuals is important in inter-organizational mentorship programs.
It seemed that the greatest challenge for the mentors was the difficulty of maintaining a focus on capacity building while under pressure to achieve specific organizational deliverables. Mentees reported that mentors in this program maintained a high level of professionalism and responsiveness, and this may have helped avoid the trap of “doing’ rather than facilitating. This appeared to support capacity building and sustainability. Due to the ongoing contextual challenges facing youth serving organizations, the work planning process is important, and Wisdom2Action should consider adding in planned check-ins each quarter to assess if any work plans changes are needed.
The evaluation interviews identified several themes that reinforce this mentorship program as being an effective model of facilitation in KMb. To strengthen future facilitation projects, programs should emphasize the importance of building personal relationships; understand the context of the community, organization, and individuals within it; focus on mentoring not managing; ensure ongoing communication; and anticipate adaptive and responsive work plans