Over the last two years, I’ve been traveling the country talking to government and nonprofit leaders teaching them how to align their culture, mission, and measures for ultimate organizational impact. Based on these conversations, I have noticed the following six shifts emerging as things that will shape the future of the sector, one of which is centered on data collection.

  1. Redefining Accountability
  2. “What Works” Requires Investment in Data Collection
  3. Behavioral and Mental Health is Finally Getting Attention
  4. Succession Planning is Needed
  5. High-Performance Measurement Cultures Pay
  6. Collaboration is King

As I covered in last week’s blog, funders are changing how they define accountability. This shift is impacting how funding decisions are made. Funders are starting to ask the question, “what social return on investment did we get because of this grant or donation?”  They want evidence of how their investments change lives and change circumstances.  This is different than the older model where the success of a program was defined by answering the question, “did we do the activities we said we would?”  Now more than ever, funders want to know “what works” and then to continue investing in those activities.

Hot Topic #2 “What Works” and Investment in Data Collection

Are you prepared to answer the question, “Does your program work?”  This question requires your organization to consistently collect and analyze outcome data.  This is the result, or impact, of your program on the people you serve.  Funders may also want to see the impact of your services on the larger community.

Much of this shift has occurred because of advancement in technology and greater access to systems that can help measure this type of information more effectively.  Organizations who have made the shift to managing to outcomes have realized this also means a needed investment in new or different data collection systems.

As leaders at all levels are seeking to make more evidence-based decisions to program funding and design, they are realizing that data collection, storage, and sharing processes need to be first step in team discussions.  For example, at the Federal Level, Democrats and Republicans came together under the leadership of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to pass the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act.  This law created a Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making to be administered by the Census Bureau, which is housed within the Department of Commerce.  This Commission’s mission is to achieve the following goals.

  • Make recommendations on how best to incorporate outcomes measurement, institutionalize randomized controlled trials, and rigorous impact analysis into program design.
  • Evaluate what administrative data and survey data are relevant for program evaluation and federal policy-making and should be included in a clearinghouse.
  • Evaluate how data and results of research can be used to inform program administrators and policymakers to improve program design.

Much of the early work of the Commission has been based on solving important data sharing issues to better understand what works.  Currently, a vast wealth of data and statistics are already collected and being collected by various federal agencies; however, the data are often siloed in each agency and are inaccessible to others. The Commission’s data responsibilities include improving the logistics of establishing cross-agency databases, examining the proposal for a general data clearinghouse, and ensuring the privacy and security procedures/structures are in place to protect such data.  Coordinating to make such data more available will enhance the evaluation of which programs work and way.

Leaders need to understand when moving towards a “what works” process, it will require investment in the infrastructure for data collection and sharing.  Measurement Resources is currently partnering with the Center for Social Enterprise Development in order to create a system which will allow them to measure the impact of all social enterprise in their community. This system will also allow funders to understand what works, what efforts are having the most impact to the needs of the community, and the opportunities where investments will make the most difference.  In developing this process, we uncovered the largest barrier to success was not how or what to measure, instead it was the community’s capacity and technology to efficiently collect, organize, and analyze the data to make impactful decisions.  This is why one of the first steps in our process is to raise the funds needed to develop the technology required to focus on what works.

Whether you want to evaluate state, federal, local, or organizational impact the following questions need to be answered.

  1. What changes are we trying to achieve in our programs and services?
  2. What evidence do we have or would we need to have to know if we have achieved this success?
  3. How do or will we efficiently collect and analyze this data in a timely manner?
  4. How does or will this process allow us to make decisions about what works and what will lead to continuous improvement?
  5. What do we need in terms of new or existing resources to sustain these efforts?

Securing Resources

Don’t be afraid of the work or the resources required to achieve this new state of management.  Knowing that your program works and having the data to prove it will be key to your organization’s sustainability in the future.  The good news is many foundations and corporate grantmakers are realizing that if they desire to make “what works” investments, organizations will need to invest in these systems.  Look for funders who give out capacity building grants, as developing these measurement and evaluation systems are a great investment to future sustainability.

If you are looking for a painless and efficient process to develop your logic model, establish your core measures, and create a plan for implementation in as little as six weeks, then our Quick Start Performance Measurement System may be the best solution for you.  In this cost-effective program, we do all the hard work and you have all the fun on your road to greater accountability and impact.  Contact us today to schedule a call to explore if this is the best program for you.

Log in next week to learn how behavioral and mental health are starting to get the attention (and funding) it deserves and what this means for your organization.