ARTICLE • 5 min

Choosing The Right Metrics For Your Measurement Project

Metrics help to quantify a program’s outcomes. They act as a signpost indicating whether change has occurred, and the direction of that change. 

To understand why it is important for every measurement project to be tracking change over time, click here to read our article on the two show-stopping features every outcome report needs.

A group of metrics is used to build an outcome report. This enables internal and external stakeholders to understand how program beneficiaries are tracking over time, and whether the program needs finetuning. 

Choosing the right metrics for your measurement project is not hard. There is a growing body of online metric catalogues specifically for social service organisations, negating the need for organisations to create metrics from scratch. Examples include IRIS and Global Value Exchange. Other tools like Socialsuite go a step further by wrapping data collection capabilities around its library of outcome metrics. 

Metrics for outcomes measurement come in various forms and types, but they are generally categorizable based on sector and the organisation’s intended outcomes. An organisation that provides impoverished communities with access to clean water will have very different outcomes, hence metrics, compared to an organisation supporting victims of domestic violence. 

Businesses rarely create performance metrics from scratch. Rather, they tend to choose from a common set of industry-based outcomes-driven metrics, and then adapt for the context for their business. For instance, a well-known metric for measuring sales performance is “sales numbers by region”. An online retailer might choose this metric to measure their performance, but adapt this based on their region(s) of operation, buyer characteristics, etc. 

Likewise, metrics for social outcomes measurement do not need to be created from scratch for every single program and intervention. Starting from a blank canvas each time adds a prohibitive and unnecessary layer of complexity for any organisation that is just starting their outcomes journey. 

One in three nonprofits say “not knowing what metrics to use” is a key barrier to them starting outcomes measurement. 

Granted that no two programs servicing the same sector will ever be identical, especially if they were delivered by different organisations. There would undoubtedly be variances such as beneficiary demographics, geographical areas served, nuances in program inputs, etc. However, both programs can still draw on the same group of outcome-based metrics to measure their respective performance. 

Let’s look at the following example. Both programs are delivered by different organisations from the family services sector, and are driven by different objectives. But the intended beneficiary outcomes are similar, hence allowing both programs to draw from a common set of metrics.

Let’s look at another example, this time for the youth welfare sector. Once again, we see that both programs have different objectives but because they service the same sector, they have similar intended beneficiary outcomes which underpin a common group of metrics. 

Coming up with the right metrics for a measurement project can seem like a daunting and boundless task. But there are a number of parameters that can significantly simplify the metric selection process. 

  1. First, define what the program’s intended benefits and outcomes are 
  2. Check to see if there are any metrics that already exist for measuring these outcomes 
  3. Decide who will provide the metric data 
  4. Define the frequency for data collection 

Have you checked out Socialsuite? It comes with a library of measurement templates that includes industry-based and expert designed metrics for a range of different outcome domains. 

Dr Clara Ong
Cofounder and Social Impact Expert @ Socialsuite
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