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Hubert Project offers online learning tools for human services professionals and students

Human Services

Students in the human services and professionals looking to better support clients and their communities can tap into a robust and growing resource: The Hubert Project, a collection of multimedia learning tools established at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Launched in 2012, the Hubert Project’s free resources on public policy, nonprofit management and related topics are used in classrooms and by human services organizations across the United States and abroad.  

It all began with an awareness of a disconnect between what professionals were learning in their work and what was in textbooks and training materials, says founder Jodi Sandfort, associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and chair of the school’s Leadership and Management Area.  

“We needed better tools to harvest what innovative managers and staffs do every day,” says Sandfort, both to share the knowledge among professionals and “so we can train future leaders.”  

To those ends, the Hubert Project currently has 66 offerings with more under development in the U.S. and abroad:

  • Brief educational videos, animated for the most part, on topics such as government-nonprofit partnerships and writing management memos.
  • E-studies, which are multimedia resources curated from various organizations. They explore policy issues or leadership approaches.
  • E-cases, which have been prepared for the Hubert Project to illustrate the challenges faced by nonprofit leaders, public sector allies, leaders, organizations and networks. These range from the design of policies to address sex trafficking to the formation of a coalition to reform children’s mental health services.  

The Hubert Project began and continues with support from The Kresge Foundation’s Human Services Program. The Kresge Foundation works to expand opportunities for vulnerable people living in America’s cities. Its Human Services Program works to strengthen multiservice human services organizations and networks that improve the quality of life and economic security of low-income people.

“As we seek to strengthen the human services sector in a time of profound change, the Hubert Project is a unique platform for sharing the lessons being learned,” says Christine Robinson, senior program officer in Kresge’s Human Services Program.

Sandfort talked recently about the challenges human services professionals face today and how the Hubert Project is responding. 

Q. What inspired you to create the Hubert Project? 

A. I’m interested in social justice. Working for the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., I saw the need for effective human services provision for people who are vulnerable. One way to make a difference is to improve how human services leaders and managers are taught and trained.

I have taught graduate students since 1998. I also worked at The McKnight Foundation in its children and families program, where it became clear that a lot of innovations demonstrated by practitioners and their insights weren’t reflected in textbooks or other published materials.  

The disconnect between practice and training made me realize we needed better tools to harvest what innovative managers and staff do every day so we can train future leaders. Civic engagement and learning from effective practitioners are an important part of my work at the Humphrey School.  

Our goal is to build training materials for human services managers and advocates, realizing that educational credentials vary widely, from a two-year associate degree to a juris doctor or medical degree. We’re working with a community of people to create resources that help improve managers’ abilities to meet the diverse needs of human services organizations.

Q. What are some of the major challenges facing human services organizations?  

A. Human services agencies struggle with limited financial resources. And, as a result, nonprofits traditionally offer low wages and limited benefits. Managers must address employee burnout and feelings of hopelessness. Training and retaining employees, including making them realize they do important work and can learn from innovators, are very important.

These are not cushy jobs. Managers require a sophisticated blend of political know-how, technical savvy and subtle leadership. And yet there are limited places to develop such skills. Higher education is making huge changes in this regard, and the Hubert project supports this movement by offering relevant, multimedia materials.

 Human services organizations receive funds from multiple sources – grants, gifts, contracts, earnings from investments and service fees – which makes it difficult to predict revenue. They face other challenges too. Many don’t have resources to invest in evaluation tools, and they are affected by public policies over which they have little control.

Q. What are the advantages of Hubert Project e-cases, e-studies and videos?

A. In public policy and social work, we used to give students theories that provide standard recipes to handle challenges. But a standard recipe doesn’t work in many environments. Our interactive materials take people into the kitchen to show how the soup is made – how people adapt.

Most of the materials are for professionals or executive education students. We embed videos along with other content such as budget narratives or staffing documents in the e-studies and e-cases so that users have the opportunity to see information in a variety of ways. This is how adults learn.  

Teachers and students, practitioners and managers easily can access the materials online and learn how other nonprofits are addressing important issues. We share knowledge widely and provide just-in-time information. Also, because Hubert Project materials are open source, they are free to anyone.  

For people interested in developing materials and sharing them in the collection, we make software available and help bring together a team. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected]

Q. How do you choose your topics?

A. We listen to people in the field – managers in organizations that are grappling with problems, nonprofit associations and funders who see nonprofits struggling. Also, some content developers are inspired by what they see as a problem or an insightful revelation through their own research. It really depends on the experts who step up to develop content, as they work through their initial idea and shape it into a learning material.  

Q. Who is your typical user? 

A. Our primary audience is professors and trainers who are working with the next generation of human services professionals. Large research universities, elite privates and smaller programs are using the materials. Future human services directors are being educated at all of them.

Our case studies are similar to those used in business schools, however, our stories have a populist bent with protagonists who are diverse in terms of race, gender, etc.

Students in graduate and undergraduate classes are using the materials to talk about specific issues, such as how nonprofits scale up operations or effectively manage financial resources. The portable learning objects can be used by individuals or embedded in an online course or training session. Our materials can be used in a lot of different curricula, as a stand-alone or as part of a flipped classroom, where students watch videos or do other work online to prepare for class.

Q. How much traffic does the website generate?

A. The site has grown to about 400 unique visitors per month since it launched in November 2012, but these are people who are often accessing the materials in large groups in classrooms. In the spirit of “open,” we don’t require individuals to register. We’re pleased to see the number of unique visitors grow and look forward to reaching a broader audience. 

Q. How is the Hubert Project evolving?  

A. We’re proud that we have built an open way to create and share multimedia learning materials, which have been in short supply in higher education and for professional training.

We noticed that the shorter e-studies were getting more traffic, so with Kresge investments we’re creating more to meet classroom instructors’ needs and create more materials for professionals. We’re also broadening our marketing to human services professionals, creating even more case studies featuring women and people of color as leaders and decision-makers, and focusing on complex system change, something all organizations deal with.  

Ideally, material creation and sharing will be a self-sustaining process. The technology is accessible, and we look forward to having more educators and trainers produce materials to submit to the collection so that production can be even more dispersed than it is today.

However, it’s important to note that Hubert Project content is much broader than the human services. Under the search bar on our website you’ll also find content related to the environment, the military and international relations.  

We receive calls every day from individuals and organizations wanting to learn more about or partner with the Hubert Project. We already have formal partnerships in Hong Kong and with 12 universities in Africa.

We are committed to managing the Hubert Project cooperatively, so a big question for us is “How do you do shared governance?” Our governing body is composed of representatives from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the University of Hong Kong’s School of Social Sciences. We bring people together who want to improve communication, training and teaching in the nonprofit arena because we are all working in a field in which our human and technical resources need to be invested widely. 

A sampling of Hubert Project resources 


Video Briefs

Policy Field Analysis (above) provides an overview of how to identify and map players and their relationships in a particular policy field so leaders and managers can make themselves and their organizations more effective.

Government Nonprofit Partnerships highlights the dynamic interaction between governments and nonprofits.


Applying Design Thinking to the Social Sector presents the “design thinking process,” a collaborative and human-centered approach to problem solving.

Adapting Evaluation to Local Contexts in a Globalized World helps learners adapt the evaluation process—framing questions, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting—to reflect the local culture.  

Calculating True Program Costs makes the case that great decisions require great information. Better information about what it actually costs to deliver a program can inform better decisions about fundraising, contract terms or pricing, and how to make the best use of unrestricted revenue.


Casa de Esperanza explains how the Latina domestic violence organization pursues mission critical but underfunded work as it expands from direct service to systems-level activities, increasing its impact.

Jeremiah Program outlines how the organization scales a two-generation poverty-alleviation strategy nationally.

African American Leadership Forum focuses on the organization’s success in sparking a new leadership movement in the United States.