Our Narrative Impact: The Space Between Advocacy and Change in Grantee Storytelling


There are powerful stories in testimony.

“The act will not meet its objectives, nor will it overcome the troubles of the Hawaiian people, by simply throwing money at the problem. Success will ride on the quantity and quality of the programs implemented. The impact that these programs have on their intended beneficiaries will be the ultimate measure of the legislation’s success.”

This was the testimony of Myron “Pinky” Thompson advocating for the Native Hawaiian Education Act on Nov. 14, 1979, to the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education at the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thompson’s response continues to echo to this day. Federal funds for the Native Hawaiian Education Program (NHEP), funded through the Act and administered by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOEd), support educational programs across the paeʻāina that serve over thousands of haumāna, kumu, and ʻohana. Yet, beyond just the funding is the impact of these programs on the positive changes, behaviors, connections and relationships in our kaiāulu.

But how and – more importantly – who are telling these stories?

With NHEP, we have multiple voices in this story, each with a different perspective and influence. The program grantees have first-hand experience in the communities they serve with power to covey the full breadth of their impact. Yet, because the USDOEd as a grantor may have a select focus of measures they want to see, other measures such as cultural competencies or increased partnerships may not be fully captured. On the same note, the USDOEd may report the percentage of programs that have met their objectives, but what of the impact of these objectives? How have these gains moved the needle in helping us understand how far we have come in Native Hawaiian education?

For example, based on our NHEP Portfolio Analysis Report of grantee programs from 2010-2018, grantees were not provided space to report on promising practices in their program evaluations. One grantee program developed a new child professional development (PD) course in examining the concept of ʻohana as it relates to Hawaiian education and studying Indigenous language in early childhood learning. Without a space to capture these program impacts, we miss the whole story.

For full stories, for powerful stories to be shared, they need space and support.

The Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) has embarked on two ambitious projects to help bring space and support to the storytelling effort. The first is a digital online repository or clearinghouse. The clearinghouse will initially house all of NHECʻs previous research studies, analysis, and data sets on NHEP to increase data access for grantees, community partners and policymakers. In navigating how this digital resource will be developed, the Council will continue to engage with these stakeholders to guide design and build from a place of value.

Our second project is an impact, assessment and learning study that will follow the 2020 NHEP grantee cohort during their full three-year grant cycle. The purpose of the study will be to gain better data insight on grantee needs at various inflection points in the grant lifecycle as a means to inform a strategy support framework (funding, technical assistance, policy) for the Council and/or USDOEd.

Stories are medicine and our most treasured way of transmitting knowledge, inspiring action and telling of change.