ARTICLE • 5 min

Outcomes social services organisations are measuring now

In October 2020, Socialsuite launched a survey of nonprofit organisations around the world to understand what types of outcomes they were measuring (if at all), and the types of metrics that were used for this purpose. 


The study is ongoing, and we plan to release sector-specific chapters to share what outcomes and metrics are used by individual sectors. 


In this article, I will focus on the trends that we have uncovered for nonprofits from the social welfare and human services sector.  


The social services sector is one of the most prolific, attracting significantly large funding each year. This sector also generates significant amounts of revenue, and is one of the top spenders on service delivery; a trend that is consistent across most developed nations including Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. 


Organisations serving the social services sector include child welfare, youth welfare, family services, disability services, elderly services, personal care, Indigenous services, emergency relief, and income support. 


The types of outcomes social service organisations measure 


We asked survey respondents what outcome areas they would be interested / were measuring. 


 The top 10 outcome domains that resonated strongest with social service organisations were: 

  • Community Engagement
  • Confidence
  • Wellbeing
  • Mental health
  • Quality of life 
  • Access to care/support
  • Relationships
  • Resilience
  • Quality of life
  • Parenting


We further segmented the data to find out what outcome domains were most prevalent based on the beneficiary type serviced by social service organisations. 


Organisations who serviced young people aged 16 – 25 years (i.e., predominantly youth welfare organisations) were particularly interested in the following outcome domains: 

  • Wellbeing
  • Relationships
  • Resilience
  • Mental Health
  • Personal Development 


For organisations who served working-age adults, the following outcome domains were of greatest interest: 

  • Community Engagement
  • Confidence
  • Quality of life 
  • Safety
  • Resilience


A further segmentation we undertook was to look at what outcomes resonated with sub-sectors sitting within social services (i.e., child welfare, youth welfare, family services, disability services, elderly services, personal care, Indigenous services, emergency relief, and income support). 


The following outcome domains resonated the strongest with child welfare organisations: 

  • Access to care/support
  • Confidence
  • Relationships
  • Parenting 
  • Wellbeing


For disability services organisations, the outcome domains of interest were: 

  • Access to care/support
  • Community Engagement
  • Independent Living
  • Confidence
  • Safety
  • Personal Development 


Indigenous services were largely interested in the following outcome domains: 

  • Community Engagement
  • Confidence
  • Wellbeing
  • Personal Development 


For emergency relief services, outcome domains of interest were:

  • Access to care/support
  • Employment
  • Loneliness
  • Safety
  • Independent living 


What is apparent from our survey findings, is that although social service organisations may service different sub-sectors and beneficiary types (e.g., disability services vs. youth welfare services), these organisations can still measure and report on the same outcome domains and metrics. 


For example, a disability services organisation and a youth welfare organisation serve different beneficiaries and run very different activities. But both organisations might be interested in measuring if their program beneficiaries are more resilient. In this case, both organisations would tap the Resilience outcome domain and its corresponding metrics. 


Read our article on how to choose the right metrics for your measurement project.


Once you know what your outcome domains are, the next step is to define the metrics that sit under each domain. Coming up with the right metrics might seem like a daunting and boundless task, but there are tools that can simplify this process significantly. 

Dr Clara Ong
Cofounder and Social Impact Expert @ Socialsuite
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