The purpose of outcomes measurement is to prove that your programs are delivering measurable and positive outcomes, not just good intent. It also allows you to improve upon things that aren’t working and leverage things that yield success. But, aside from financial data, what should you be measuring to look at program performance?
This blog will outline five basic measures of program performance that are straight-forward, comprehensible, and yield important insight into what’s working and what isn’t working. These measures can empirically prove that your organisation is doing what it says you are doing and that your organisation’s efforts are translated into positive social change.
1. Participant demographics
It is important to not only define the target population your programs aim to serve, but also prove that your programs actually serve the desired target population by tracking participant demographic information. Common demographics to track include: gender, ethnicity, race and age. While this measurement is generally a basic count of program participants and their identifying characteristics, it is critical to understand who your programs serve. Demographic information can also be used to correlate other program measurements with program participants’ specific demographic identifiers.
2. Diversity of programs and dosage
These days many organisations offer a diversity of services and complimentary programs, or what is known as “wrap-around” services, to help participants build upon skills and knowledge gained in previous programs.
In these cases, it is useful to track the diversity of services offered to participants, as well as the amount of services accessed by your participants, or “dosage”. Both program diversity and dosage are considered as “outputs” and these can be correlated to the outcomes achieved by a program participant to determine your organisation’s impact on a program participant and the programs and services that are most in need.
3. Participant progress and goal achievement
Establishing the impact a program has on a participant often takes a significant amount of time and effort before it becomes evident, as you need to accumulate data on the small incremental changes taking place over time to demonstrate larger outcomes. Many organisations intuitively know they are having a positive impact on their participants anecdotally, but often struggle when communicating the quantifiable outcomes related to the programs and services offered to those participants. Organisations that are able to consistently and accurately track a participant’s progress and goal achievement have a significant advantage when applying for funding because they can move from “serving needs” to proving “positive impact”. They are able to define what success looks like by communicating data that proves that they are achieving their organisational objectives.
4. Participant dissatisfaction AND satisfaction
Although it is often hard to hear, feedback on issues and problems regarding your services is important for continuous improvement as “failure can be the key to success”. However, it is equally important to hear about the positive experiences as well. This is when gathering consistent satisfaction data is critical to help you determine whether or not your participants are satisfied with your services, help decide which programs to expand or modify, and demonstrate to your stakeholders, both internal and external, your satisfaction rates.
5. Incoming and outgoing referrals
Tracking incoming referrals allows you to specify where your referrals are coming from. This allows you to identify good partner relationships and prove which outreach efforts are most effective.
Tracking outgoing referrals can help you to determine the services that you aren’t providing. This is essential to identify possible opportunities for expanding internal services or areas to meet participant needs.
Knowing where your program participants are coming from and where they are going once they complete your programs or services helps you to define the lifecycle of a program participant’s journey with your organisation. It also ensures you have the data to connect with incoming and outgoing referral service providers to potentially collaborate on data projects and learn about long-term participant outcomes associated with the aggregate group of services provided by you and your partners.
Ultimately, collecting outcomes measurement data that tells a comprehensive story about your clients, programs and staff is critical to proving that your organisation has achieved its objectives. Thus, by including these five basic measures of program performance into your strategic plans, you can help to ensure that you are making a positive impact on both individuals and communities.