Collecting Data You Can Actually Use
January 22, 2022
By Maryfrances Porter & Alison Nagel
In 2010, with fairly little fan fair as far as we can tell, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published an internal guide to Actionable Measurement for their initiatives. In this guide, they say “measurement should be designed with a purpose in mind — to inform decisions and/or actions; … We do not measure everything but strive to measure what matters most.” As opposed to measuring everything possible. Let’s be choosy about what to measure and prioritize what helps us make decisions.
A few years later, in 2016, the Gates Foundation joined several other large funders with the Fund for Shared Insight to create Listen4Good which “is a capacity-building initiative that helps direct-service organizations listen and respond to the people and communities at the heart of their work.” These funders realized that because most people dependent on nonprofits cannot vote with their wallets. Thus, it is simply a matter of equity to give them voice in improving programming. These funders encouraged investments in creating “high quality feedback loops that advance equity and lead to positive changes in the ways they make decisions, deliver services and partner with clients.” Let’s not just use our own ideas about what would make better programs, let’s ask the consumer and make changes based on their preferences and values.
You can make a compelling case for collecting exactly this and ONLY this. While many funders might fully not articulate it, in our experience, this is really what they want too.
REMEMBER – Program Evaluation is Not Your Job
You’ve probably heard us compare nonprofits to doctors who don’t do the science behind what they prescribe, but they prescribe medicine already known to work. Doctors then need to follow-up and make sure patients are getting better. Similarly, nonprofits do not need to prove what they do works. But, they do need to provide programming that has already been shown to work and then make sure clients are actually receiving the benefits from that programming. If clients are not getting the expected benefits then nonprofits need to make adjustments until clients are benefiting.
Nonprofits often ask: So how do I collect data that helps me (a) show that people are receiving benefits, and (b) know what adjustments need to be made to improve what I do?
Here’s exactly what we tell them.
THIS is Actionable Measurement
The first thing you want to know is whether or not people actually got what you intended for them to get. This is the basics of whether or not they “improved their lives.” This information helps you tell your story, and make changes if people are not getting better.
Did they achieve something? Like getting a diploma, getting a better job, or reaching a goal.
Did they gain new knowledge? Like why it’s important to have a bank account, strategies for positive parenting, or how to read.
Did they master a new skill? Like how to balance a family budget, how to cook, or how to write a small business plan.
Did the gain the ability to access something that was out of reach? Like their depression has decreased so they can work, they have access to transportation, or they now have the medication they need to manage their diabetes.
The second thing you want to know is whether or not people feel motivated and confident to use what they go to make real changes in their lives. This helps you know if they got enough of what you offered to actually make longer-term changes. This information helps you link your story to longer-term change, and make changes if people are not leaving feeling like they can take action.
Are they motivated to make changes in their life? Do they want to use what they got from working with you in the future?
Are they confident about moving forward? Do they feel like they are likely to succeed in making changes if they try?
The third thing you want to know if whether or not people felt good about the services they got. This helps you know – not just are you making people better – but are they happy with the services. This information helps you make changes in how services are delivered so that people are more comfortable accessing services.
Would they recommend these services to others they care about? Did they feel treated with respect? How hard or easy was it to work through the program? Was the effort worth the benefit?
You can track achievement, and you can ask people these exactly these questions: What knowledge, skills, abilities, motivation, and confidence did you get from working with us? You can ask people how they felt about the services they got, and whether they would recommend them to others.
This is actionable measurement.
At Partnerships for Strategic Impact®, we focus on coaching, training, and supporting small- and medium-sized nonprofits in telling powerful impact stories. You’ve worked hard to develop honest, trusting relationships with all your stakeholders and funders, and you have the powerful testimonials highlighting how you’ve changed lives. But we all know numbers still matter.
You really can tell the whole story of how your organization is improving people’s lives. You really can talk about how people can take what they learn and make lasting change. And you really can talk about how your work is done in service of improving community conditions for everyone.
This is within reach. Your funders and the people being served deserve to know more about the value your organization delivers.
We Get It
Your work is value driven. Its value lies in the impact of your work on the people served. Let us help you tell your impact story. Reach out, answering questions is our specialty.
— Maryfrances & Alison
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