The mission of Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry is to foster learning and fuel improved practice within fields of social and community action.
Touchstone specializes in collaborative and participatory evaluation projects. We help organizations and networks (a) identify their learning and improvement goals, (b) design and implement appropriate data collection strategies, and (c) use data findings along with insights from experiential knowledge to identify key accomplishments and guidelines for improved practice.
In other words, we help organizations and fields of social action document and tell their story, in ways that enable insights for improved practice to be implemented by participants and shared with others to strengthen fields of policy and practice.
We specialize in collaborative, participatory approaches because we have found that people learn through the process of evaluation as well as from the findings produced. Engagement in evaluation design, data collection and interpretation helps build capacity. It fosters a culture of learning in which questions can be asked, assumptions surfaced and tested, skills built, and critical reflection can occur. In addition, engagement in the evaluation process helps ensure that evaluation findings are used, that evaluation is focused on the most relevant questions, and that the evaluation is conducted in ways that can help advance rather than disrupt the work.
Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry was founded in 2004 by David Scheie. It now includes a pool of over 10 staff and consultants working in Minnesota and across the U.S. Current and recent Touchstone evaluation and learning projects have been with:
Immigrant Participation and Immigration Reform, a national learning and evaluation initiative focused on immigrant civic participation, organizational capacity growth and local-to-national networks for policy reform. The initiative involves over 80 nonprofit organizations, most engaged in national policy reform efforts coordinated by National Immigration Forum, Center for Community Change, and National Council of La Raza. Sponsors include the Knight Foundation, American Dream Fund, and the Four Freedoms Fund (a consortium whose members include Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Haas Jr. Fund, Joyce Foundation, and Open Society Institute).
Healthy Together, a Minnesota statewide initiative focused on immigrant integration and community health through social connectedness. About 60 nonprofit organizations, many immigrant-led, are engaged in “exchange projects” involving collaborative action for community improvement, immigrant social adjustment and mental health projects, or organizational development projects. Healthy Together is an initiative of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation.
Neighborhood Learning Community, in St. Paul, a network of organizations engaged in informal education, civic engagement and systems change that includes Jane Addams School for Democracy, Youth Farm and Market Project, St. Paul Community Education, St. Paul Parks and Recreation, and West Side Citizens Organization. Major support came from the Wallace Foundation. (See A Community Alive with Learning at : http://www.westsidelearning.org/documents/TheoryofChangeVisual4.pdf).
Hamline University’s Theological Exploration of Vocation Program, an initiative to expand the exploration and discernment of calling and vocation among students, faculty and other members of the Hamline University community, with support from the Lilly Endowment.
Leadership in Support of Neighborhoods, a grassroots leadership development program sponsored by Hamline Midway Coalition, the official neighborhood organization in the Hamline Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, and Hamline University.
Strengthening Neighborhoods, a program of the Denver Foundation, which supports community-building, leadership development and organizing for change in lower-income areas of metropolitan Denver.
Renewing the Countryside, an organization that strengthens rural areas by championing and assisting communities and individuals who are renewing the countryside by pursuing sustainable, innovative initiatives, businesses and projects.
Organized Religion, an evaluation initiative with faith-based organizing and civic engagement projects across California including Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches (LAM), Orange County Congregations Community Organization (OCCCO), the FAITHS Initiative of the San Francisco Foundation, the Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara County, and the Faith-Based Leadership Training Institute of San Diego, with support from the James Irvine Foundation. (See Faith, Community & Civic Action at http://irvine.org/assets/pdf/evaluation/insight_FaithComCivicAction.pdf, and What’s Faith Got to Do with It? at http://www.irvine.org/assets/pdf/pubs/former/Faith.pdf).
Other recent projects have been with the Youth Farm and Market Project, Neighborhood Small Grants Network, and the Blandin Foundation’s community leadership programs.
Prior to founding Touchstone, Scheie worked 17 years on staff of Rainbow Research, Inc.
There he led learning and evaluation projects on faith-based community development, neighborhood revitalization, school/community partnerships, youth organizing, community economic development, cultural diversity and anti-racism, sustainable agriculture, and rural leadership and community development. Clients and sponsors included Community Organizing & Family Issues (Chicago), Annie E. Casey Foundation, Jessie Ball DuPont Foundation, Edward Hazen Foundation, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, C. S. Mott Foundation, Neighborhood Small Grants Network (Grassroots Grantmakers), Northwest Area Foundation, and numerous nonprofit and community organizations in Minnesota.