How can we tell if we are making a difference?
17 October 2019 at 8:54 am
The Xfactor Collective specialist member Elaine Hendrick shares some reflections to help strengthen outcomes measurement in your organisation, in the first in our weekly Collective Insights column.
At a time when competition for funding is at its greatest possible level, most social purpose sector organisations are struggling to gain their competitive edge.
On a weekly basis, I am seeing organisations faced with the uphill battle of differentiating the work they do from that of their “competitors”.
“It is important to acknowledge that contributing toward social impact is as important as being directly accountable for intended outcomes.”
Yet important discussions about responsibility and accountability are often omitted, and this then perpetuates “fuzzy” reporting and submissions on organisational success.
Alongside this, many organisations also underestimate the value of having meaningful goals and are grappling with ways of measuring their effectiveness.
Here are some reflections to help strengthen outcomes measurement in your organisation:
Orientate the focus towards the ends, not the means
Competitive edge can be achieved by building the organisation’s capacity to report against “outcomes” (the “ends”) instead of only focusing on “outputs” (the “means”). The organisation must have clarity about what it is directly accountable for and have the ability to articulate where this ends, and its contribution towards social impact begins.
It is important to acknowledge that contributing toward social impact is as important as being directly accountable for intended outcomes. All organisations and/or programs exist because there are social problems that collectively they can provide solutions for. Being clear about the problem or need provides a good starting point to finding robust and sustainable solutions.
One dimension that drives organisational success is its ability to articulate the organisation’s level of accountability. Organisations must begin with the “end” in mind. “Making a difference” simply means working towards achieving a set of intended and desired outcomes.
Create meaningful outcomes statements
Outcomes are realistic, specific, measurable statements that let an organisation know that it is reaching its desired goals.
Outcomes statements must describe specific positive changes in the skills, knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and circumstances of the clients or customers that an organisation expects to occur as a result of its actions. Having a set of well-articulated and well-defined outcomes (the “ends”) is what gives an organisation a clear sense of purpose and direction.
A program that educates young people about the justice system, in the south-eastern corridor of Victoria, developed an outcomes measurement framework that resulted in the launch of the program’s first evaluation report in April 2019.
The program used the evaluation process to articulate:
- what had changed in the lives of the young people as a result of program activities;
- how well the program practices and processes contributed to the intended outcomes; and
- the extent to which the organisation made a difference.
Clarity of their level of accountability provided the organisation with a clear sense of purpose. Having identified a set of meaningful outcomes and a systematic way to evaluate or assess the extent to which the program achieved its intended outcomes for the young people they work with, enabled the organisation to use the data collected to assist with program (re)design, planning and to ensure its sustainability.
The organisation acknowledged that the ultimate purpose of evaluation was continuous learning, which assisted with the development of evidence-based and best practice that moved the program and the organisation toward greater effectiveness.
Working in the space of outcomes measurement enabled the organisation to collect more information to support continuous quality improvement. They also had the ability to measure against meaningful outcomes statements.
The organisation was also able to clearly articulate what they had done well; what more could be done to make things better for the young people in the program; and what other innovative practices and processes as well as partnerships could be developed and implemented that assisted with the achievement of the intended outcomes for the young people they worked with.
Once an organisation is able to report against outcomes; has clarity of their level of accountability; has well-defined performance measures that speak to the intended outcomes; and is using data collection tools to collect data on the intended outcomes, they are set up to manage outcomes.
The organisation is now able to say and report that they are making a difference in the lives of the people and communities they work with.
Three top tips
To ensure the successful implementation of an outcomes measurement framework within any organisation, the following must be considered:
- Developing a framework takes time. Start small, implement slowly. Learn from the experience.
- Identifying a group of champions within the organisation to spearhead the outcomes measurement initiative is a good starting point.
- But more importantly, success depends on the dedication and commitment from all levels within the organisation. It requires effort and a need for adequate resources.
Once the framework is established, it will certainly take a life of its own!
About the author: Elaine Hendrick is an experienced outcomes measurement and monitoring and evaluation specialist and a member of The Xfactor Collective social impact community.
Each week Pro Bono News and The Xfactor Collective present a Collective Insights column, answering common questions and challenges experienced by social changemakers. You are welcome to lodge questions for the column by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The Xfactor Collective is an Australian-first community where changemakers go for expert support and advice, including pre-vetted specialists across 100-plus areas of specialisation, specialist triage support services and a free video library.