Naming Priorities & Capturing Impact

Results-Based Accountability™ (RBA) has been hard at work with Community Food Strategies and local food councils over the past year as one of several tools we’re finding useful to build the network of local food councils across North Carolina.

There are at least two things that consistently get me through the, not infrequent, occurrence of leaving home in the 5am hour to see a local food council engaging with their community in a county far to the west or the east of our home office: the sunrise, and the promise of meeting new people doing great work in their community. January 18, 2016 did not disappoint on either front.

Sometime in the 7:00am hour, our Community Food Strategies team found ourselves winding up Hwy 421 into Watauga County ushered in by a gorgeous sky full of an orange-pink winter sunrise. We were greeted by more than 50 of Watauga County’s finest food-related folks from multiple organizations and backgrounds for a full morning of action planning across three priorities areas the Watauga Food Council Leadership Team had identified.

This was the tenth time in 12 months that our Community Food Strategies team had the opportunity to apply the Results Based Accountability methods with food councils. The Results-Based Accountability™ (RBA) framework is based on Mark Friedman’s book, Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough. We have found the methods involved engaging and useful to name a shared vision, identify common data points, and align resources that move our communities toward the vision of a thriving foodshed. RBA provides an approach to identify and work on strategic priorities to reach a shared goal or result.

RBAbookThe approach starts with these basic questions:

  • What do we want?
  • How do we know it’s happening?
  • How do we get there?  

Then, uses a process to evaluate progress, that asks:

  • What did we do?  
  • How well did we do it?
  • And is anyone better off?

Our first six rounds of RBA were at each of six regional gatherings for food councils that happened in early 2016. Those experiences gave us exciting responses from community members doing food council work across the state. By comparing responses from western North Carolina to the coast, we were able to capture similarities and differences in how each region might choose to measure impact and what types of actions communities would choose to implement. Those six gatherings also shaped an outcome that we could agree to work towards across all regions: A thriving, sustainable community-based food system across all NC counties.


2016 regional gatherings summary data

You can find a full summary of the data collected at the regional gatherings and the comparisons across six regions in the state here, and detailed descriptions of each region’s respective responses here.  

Energized by the cross-sector work that’s happening and by how engaging it was to use the RBA method to capture and prioritize a lot of ideas in a short time, we used these methods with individual councils. The Chatham Community Food Council (CCFC) worked through the RBA process with our team to identify three priorities to work towards over the next two years. This one-on-one work with a food council allowed our team to spend more time (six+ hours rather than just one to two hours) on the RBA process. With this focused time applying the RBA methods, the CCFC was able to dig deeper into the “Story Behind the Curve”, the reasons current trends were happening, and thoughtfully identify which issues the food council could focus on to make greater impact.

Members from eight food councils came to a RBA training to learn these skills and apply them in their communities.

Inspired by the focus that stated priorities offer a food council, like CCFC, in moving the needle on key opportunities, we hired Rebecca Reeve of the UNC Center for Health Wellness to train not just the Community Food Strategies team, but also to train local food council members on these RBA skills. In early November 2016, sixteen food council members came together for a day of learning and practicing the tools of the RBA framework. We are excited to seed these skills across local food councils and look forward to supporting these groups in running their own community information gathering and council strategy sessions with these tools that we have found so useful.

The half-day with the Watauga Food Council offered exactly that – a time to support the council members in hosting their community to think together about the work that is already happening and understand and prioritize actions to move the work forward across their organizations. One leader in the WCFC, Dave Walker of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, was able to attend the RBA training in November, and this meeting was an opportunity for Dave to bring those learnings back to the local council and put them to use.  

Working with Community Food Strategies through the RBA process engaged our Food Council. It provided space to envision what food equity or viable local-agriculture look like and to map a clear plan toward those goals. The session was three hours, but our meetings since then have been vibrant and our Focus Areas are actively completing action steps toward those goals. Five months later, we can say that the RBA process helped move our Food Council from emerging to active.  

Dave Walker, Watauga Food Council member

In three hours, with a group of over 50 people, we were able to identify nine action planning steps and 46 total strategies, across the three focus areas to work towards in 2017. It was an energizing and action focused day.

Some of the participants’ reactions include:

  • “It helped to lay out a clear path forward”
  • “I think taking us from results to actual next actions was great”
  • “I appreciated how we tackled these issues from a multi-pronged approach. I also liked how we thought through how to measure success and ranked them. It was a great event.”

Not only was the Watauga community really engaged with the Food Council by sharing their great ideas and insights, but they also really know how to build community over food. After the great work done in the morning, the leaders of the Food Council treated the 50+ person room to homemade soups, breads, salads, and amazing desserts! Ushered in by the sunrise and ushered out by great local food and conversation, we drove back down the mountain that afternoon heartened by the collective work being done in communities like Watauga County and hopeful that tools like RBA can help us all work more efficiently and effectively across our respective missions to cultivate a thriving, resilient foodshed in our state.

If you would like more information about how RBA is being used in communities we work in and/or other technical assistance information, please visit our website or email us at

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