This blog outlines 3 questions you should ask yourself about your programs and services to help you capture the outcomes data you need without overwhelming data entry.
Social Solutions Apricot™ software is a powerful tool for collecting, managing, and analysing outcomes data, but you need to strike the right balance between capturing all of the data you need while keeping the data entry process streamlined and efficient.
Apricot Software Design: Who are we serving?
The first question SquaredImpact encourages organisations to ask is “Who are we serving?”
So, as you are designing your database, start by thinking about your target population. Who are the people you are hoping to reach with your services and what data do we want to collect on them? Try to be as specific as you can.
For example, simply saying that you want to serve youth is too general. Saying you want to serve low-income, female youth between the ages of six and twelve is much more specific. Being more specific helps you to see the data elements that you need to track in your Apricot database: income, gender, and age.
Collecting demographic data on the clients you are serving answers the following questions:
- Are you reaching those you set out to serve?
- Are you reaching an unexpected population(s)?
- Is a particular subset of your target population accessing your services at higher rates than others?
Demographic data that tells you who you are serving is typically captured on a Tier 1 “Client Profile” form in Apricot software. Client Profile records include data that is, for the most part, static and not tracked across time.
Apricot Software Design: What services are they receiving?
It’s not enough to know who you are serving; you also want to know how well and how effectively you are serving them.
So the second question to ask yourself to work out what data you need to capture in Apricot is “What services are our clients receiving?” The services you provide to clients might include outreach, meeting one-on-one, leading group events, special programs, workshops, mentoring, counseling, or referrals to community partners, among others.
Tracking services provided to clients produces useful metrics such as:
- How many services you provide (counts)
- The kinds of services you provide
- Average amount and type of services accessed by each client
- Amount of time and money spent on services
- Average length of time between services
- Case manager case load by services provided
Apricot software is specifically designed to track these kinds of services. Each Tier 1 Client Profile record can have numerous associated Tier 2 records. Tier 2 records track dynamic information about your clients over time, which is why Tier 2 records usually require a date field.
Create multiple Tier 2 records to track each service received by individual clients. The Tier 1-Tier 2 form structure enables reporting on service information across time for each individual client without re-entering static client data each time you log a service.
Apricot Software Design: Why do our services matter and why should we measure their effectivenss?
The last question you want to ask and track in Apricot is “Why do our services matter?” because understanding the impact you are having on your clients and the community is essential. Using data in Apricot software to show concrete outcomes will pinpoint what you are doing well and identify areas that need improvement. Outcomes data can also communicate impact to both internal and external stakeholders.
Understanding the impact of your programs and services generally requires comparison. Outcomes can compare differences within a single client as a result of your services or compare a group of clients to external populations or standards.
Below are four ways you can look at comparative data to demonstrate the (social) impact of your programs and services:
- Pre and post assessments – Assessments that occur at the beginning and end of a program are a common method of measuring impact. Assessments can be surveys, observations, or a skills and knowledge evaluation, based on your type of program. In Apricot, you can create a single Tier 2 assessment record that can be completed for clients before and after receiving services so you can measure changes in assessment data over time (from one assessment to another).
- Post-only assessments – Depending on what program you are delivering, it may be difficult to gather meaningful data across time. It may make more sense for your organisation to gather outcome data at the end of the program only. This can be in the form of satisfaction surveys or asking clients to reflect on the changes they experienced as a result of your programs and services. A simple Tier 2 outcomes and exit form can be completed for each client and compiled in a single report.
- Comparison groups – You can also look at impact by examining comparison groups within your data set, such as comparing how a group of clients who attended a training compare to those who did not attend. The group may also exist external to your programs, such as how your clients improve compared to the community as a whole. Use Tier 2 records to track clients’ progress and create reports that compare outcomes across different groups.
- Comparison standards – You may also compare your impact to a preselected benchmark. For example, if your program seeks to have all youth in the program reading at a specific grade level, you can periodically test reading levels to measure progress toward that standard. In Apricot reports, you can measure progress toward standards with “Targetlines” in charts. Targetlines are a visual representation of benchmarks that quickly show a clients’ progress in relation to the standard.
Answering the questions above will help keep your organisation focused on not just collecting data but using data to improve organisational performance. So when determining the data to track in your database, start by asking who are the clients we serve, what services are they receiving, and why do our services matter.
This will ensure that you are capturing the data you need while avoiding needless data entry, thereby ensuring you have a a clean, information-rich database that can fulfill your reporting needs.
This post references content with permission from a blog first developed by Katie Brown from Sidekick Solutions, Inc. 28/01/16