When community benefit organizations (CBOs) and programming in schools think about data collection, the de facto focus is often the assessment of services provided (e.g. How many families attended the event? or How many professionals used our service?). Service Outcomes (SO) assessment is therefore a practical starting point for imbuing organizations with a culture of data-driven practices. SOs are the results of processes for delivering services. Organizations that have data-driven practices ask questions of themselves such as:
- Are we providing long-term, well-trained mentors for our clientele? (i.e. for mentoring programs)
- Do we offer arts activities in practical locations for the community to access? (i.e. arts and culture programs)
- Do we demystify legal processes for clients to clearly understand consequences of legal actions? (i.e. for legal support programs)
Additionally, while we are seeing organizations beginning to think about data collection practices, often these practices are centralized to one corner of the organization with one person leading the efforts; this tends to coincide with a lack of complete buy-in from all members of the organization. The practical place for SO assessment activities is in the laps of every professional in your organization. Every professional has a role to play in transforming and encouraging a culture of data-driven decision-making – we mean this practically speaking, not philosophically. For example, all professionals in the organization can share in the annual planning of SO strategies; some might take-on specific tasks such as tracking and organizing the targeted data for a specific year. In this way, you embed SO assessment activities throughout the organization while also fostering buy-in from all professionals in the organization. And, because SO assessment is integrated in the work your staff is already engaging in, you further reinforce a culture of data-driven decisions.
The key message
Strengthen your organization with people-centered Service Outcomes assessment, giving your staff opportunity to build additional skill-sets while establishing data-driven practices in the current workload and workflow.
Four recommendations for moving towards the key message
- Include assessment expectations in all job descriptions. Consider wording such as, “Employee is expected to demonstrate involvement in ongoing assessment practices including the efforts to improve the quality of programming.” This vague language allows flexibility for how “involvement” takes place for each professional, but the employee enters the role with a basic understanding of the evidence-driven culture of the organization.
- Consider using staff meetings and development activities for games that support staff in framing their day-to-day work as anchored in the mission of the organization and data-driven practices. Can employees recite the organization’s mission and goals, and perhaps its assessment activities, singing memorable tunes or drawing memorable symbols of these relationships? Can employees describe their contributions to the mission, goals and assessment activities, sharing about their projects and challenges within the context of the organization’s mission?
- Share the most recent SO assessment findings with staff and clients (as appropriate) and ask for their feedback on interpretations of the findings. Consider doing this through focus groups.
- Draft a multi-year assessment plan that spans three to five years. Therefore, only one or two SOs would be explored each year. This type of planning allows the experiences from each year’s assessment activities to inform the next year’s strategy. Components of the multi-year assessment plan might include a list of all tasks carried-out by each program. The tasks can then be linked to the organizational goals that the tasks directly advance. Once tasks and goals are aligned, the remainder of the plan can focus on articulating SOs, measurements, methods, and timelines.
Recommendations 1 through 4 articulate one way to embedded ongoing assessment activities for data-driven decision-making. Ongoing assessment activities reflect a practical use of SO assessment. A benefit of ongoing assessment tasks is that 1.) Assessment practices can be altered as needed based on how they are unfolding alongside the natural changes that organizations experience, and 2.) Findings are provided to your organization immediately as various assessment tasks are undertaken. This sort of real-time feedback can inform your organization’s practices because some type of assessment task is always taking place. Instead of once-a-year Annual Reports, your organization operates with real-time information which empowers its decisions.
In Part 2 of this discussion, we will distinguish the difference between SOs and Program Outcomes (POs). We will discuss the importance of organizations moving from SOs to POs.