As the director of the Office of Management for Not-for-profit Institutes (OMNI), Trochim teaches core management skills such as planning and evaluation to institutions and organizations. Without such skills, multiple organizations trying to collaborate all too often face insurmountable problems--with the involved groups all trying to serve different interests, audiences, and constituents.
OMNI is an office within Cornell's Community and Rural Development Institute (CaRDI), a cross-college program that is operated with faculty members in the College of Human Ecology's Department of Policy Analysis and Management. The core leadership of OMNI comprises Trochim and Associate Professor Don Tobias, director of CaRDI. For any given project, however, the staff adapts, depending on the agencies, groups, or organizations with which OMNI is partnering.
"When organizations are formed," Trochim explains, "they do not resemble living organisms, with senses, a nervous system, or a brain." For them to function effectively--both on their own and especially within a collaboration--decision-making systems must be built into them. "You must build the equivalent of the senses into organizations to gather information and measure what is going on in the environment," he says. "You also must build a nervous system--the underlying structure that links information together, and the equivalent of a brain--an ability to process and evaluate information. When you have a number of organizations working together, the endeavor is going to be challenging."
That is where OMNI can help. To train boards of directors and to teach organizations planning, management, and evaluation skills, OMNI uses the latest methodologies and applied social science. These tools include advanced multivariate statistical techniques and group concept mapping, coupled with the latest technologies such as web-based surveys and data collection. "We are building some of the most sophisticated social research methodologies into processes that organizations can grasp and work with," Trochim says.
OMNI's mission is to support management development for not-for-profit organizations. Its services are specialized for the public sector and not-for-profit organizations. The faculty members who collaborate with OMNI bring their expertise and research programs to their work on various projects. OMNI's activities are centered in two broad areas: the research and development of methods for organizational planning and evaluation, and the actual projects OMNI undertakes with organizations and agencies.
The demand for OMNI's services has been growing amid increasing pressures from both the public and government for accountability and outcome-based funding. This emphasis affects how organizations think about how they operate and what they need to do to operate well.
Through their collaborations with other organizations, the faculty members who work within OMNI develop new methodologies and provide the best that contemporary social science has to offer. That makes it especially advantageous for OMNI to be located within Cornell University, rather than existing as its own not-for-profit organization. "OMNI fits into Cornell's outreach mission and into the research programs of the faculty members involved with it," Trochim says.
Why is it so important for not-for-profit groups and public agencies to commit themselves to strategic planning and evaluation? "Many of these groups tend to be in reactive mode," Trochim says. They often only begin strategic planning when it is called for by some external entity of because of a crisis. The same is often true when it comes to evaluation, according to Tobias. "Evaluation is an important step, but the difficulty is that the organization often has waited until the eleventh hour to have the conversation."
OMNI offers a rational approach to project management that teaches people how to think through the relationship between planning and evaluation. …