Measuring Social Outcomes Conference Review
24 October 2013 at 9:06 am
The recent Measuring Social Outcomes Conference brought together a number of prominent speakers and thought leaders to discuss complex issues around outcome measurement. Business adviser, Ruth Knight delivers her analysis from the Conference.
Measuring social outcomes is a large and complex subject that is causing both significant concern and excitement across the sector.
I took away a number of key thoughts and ideas from the conference.
1. Outcomes measurement is important.
One compelling answer to the question of "why measure outcomes?" is to see if programs really make a difference in the lives of people. But there are a number of other reasons why focussing on demonstrating and measuring outcomes is important:
- To help guide and shape program implementation.
- To help improve services and policy, and make strategic decisions about them.
- To help attract support and funding.
- To help decide if funds are being spent on the right interventions.
- To provide transparency and accountability to stakeholders.
- To be able to compare programs and advocate for the interventions that are found to be most effective.
2. Outcome measurement must be an ongoing commitment not as a one off project.
Outcome measurement is not an outcome itself. While cross-sectional and SROI evaluations are undoubtedly helpful and important, outcome measurement as a discipline needs to have long-term commitment by organisations and funders.
The sector as a whole, and individual organisations, need to ensure an ongoing commitment to measuring outcomes over the long term if we want to be truly accountable and create meaningful changes in areas such as health and wellbeing.
3. Outcome measurement should be embedded into the organisational culture.
While it is tempting to simply conduct research and evaluation to satisfy external expectations, the discipline needs to be recognised by the board and staff as having everyday meaning for quality service provision and knowledge generation.
If this can be achieved, there should be a strong commitment from the board to champion outcome measurement and make the workforce accountable for monitoring and evaluation regularly, not in an ad hoc or reactive way. It was suggested at the conference that boards should be the centre of enquiry and should take much more ownership over outcome measurement.
4. Outcome measurement should enable organisations to be more innovative, not less.
Professor Peter Shergold believes that finding better ways to fund and deliver community services will demand a greater appetite for risk and innovation from both government and the Not for Profit sector. That is because effective outcomes measurement frameworks help people to embrace new ways of looking at old problems. This provides organisations with an opportunity to be more strategic, creative and innovative.
There is general agreement that if governments can encourage the sector to be less risk-averse and embed outcomes measurement into their culture while imposing fewer restrictions on innovation, organisations are likely to flourish and rely less on government funding.
5. Outcome measurement may need to be a collaborative effort.
Because there are so many different ways of measuring the myriad of outcomes that organisations desire to achieve, if organisations don’t start talking and collaborating together, there is a potential for outcome measurement to be meaningless.
Negotiation, consensus and coordination is required within organisations, across the sector, with academia and other experts in order to develop commonly understood measurement strategies and indicators of success and change.
If this collaboration does not occur, there is a risk that what gets measured won’t get valued and funders will start putting restrictions and limitations on what and how organisations undertake outcome measurement.
6. Understanding logic models is vital.
Logic models are an important management tool – they help people think critically about what their program or service is trying to achieve and then provide a road map to reach important outcome goals.
Logic models are critical when creating an outcomes measurement framework and if developed in a participatory way, they are also a tool that builds relationships, understanding and communication between stakeholders. Logic models are also a great way to address assumptions and identify unintended consequences that our organisations and outcome measurement processes have on people.
7. The time to start on the outcome measurement journey is now.
For many years measuring social outcomes has been in the too-hard basket. Not any longer. It is becoming increasingly important and vital to communicate the benefits of community programs and services in order for them to be acknowledged and funded.
There are too many social problems, too many disadvantaged people and communities for us to rest on our laurels. If there is a better way to combat these concerns, we need to be cultivating an outcomes-focused mindset and the passion to be as effective as we possibly can for those we serve.
Thank you to the conference speakers who included Andrew Young (Centre for Social Impact), Jayne Meyer-Tucker (Good Beginnings Australia), Kane Bowden (Lighthouse Foundation), Les Hems (Net Balance), Peter Shergold (University of Western Sydney), Peter Winneke (Myer Family Company) and Tris Lumley (New Philanthropy Capital).
About the author: Ruth Knight is a Queensland-based trainer, consultant, business advisor, and founder and director of The Pillars of Best Practice – an online coaching program for Not for Profit organisations and leaders. She has a Masters of Business from QUT, she is an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, and a Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute.