You might have come across evaluation and outcome reports spanning more than 30 pages, peppered with charts, data tables and analytical insights.
These types of reports are often prepared as a once-off, or a snapshot in time, by academic institutions and consultants. These reports certainly have their place. Not only do they add tremendous rigour and offer a robust baseline for organisations to work from; but they also give organisations a clear framework for planning and strategy.
It is important to bear in mind though, that “industrial-strength reports” such as these are not representative of a typical outcomes report. There is no one best practice reporting template, and you should not feel like you are incapable of outcomes reporting simply because your organisation does not have the capacity to produce such extensive reports.
In this article, I will cover two show-stopping features that would boost credibility in any outcomes report. What I hope to demonstrate is that a one-page outcomes report that is regularly updated and used for the right reasons, which encompasses some form of these two features, is just as effective as a 30-page one.
Being able to demonstrate how your beneficiaries have changed with time, as a result of your program/intervention, is perhaps the most important feature of an outcomes report.
There are a couple of ways that you can show change over time:
Say you are running a one-off training workshop. A great way to demonstrate whether your workshop has achieved its intended outcomes is to have workshop participants complete a survey before and after the workshop, by self-rating on key attributes that the workshop aims to address (for example, self-esteem, resilience, basic skills and knowledge).
If your one-off program is delivering its intended outcomes, then the data should demonstrate an upward trend. In this instance, your workshop participants should hypothetically report higher self-ratings of key attributes after the workshop compared to before. If not, then it is time to evaluate how the workshop can be improved.
Oftentimes, social service organisations deliver programs and services that span weeks if not months. Take a youth mentoring program for example, which might span the duration of 12 months.
Indeed, outcomes measurement should not be regarded as only providing insights for a snapshot in time. Rather, it ought to be an ongoing practice that provides continuous insights into how beneficiaries are evolving since entering your program.
If your mentoring program is delivering its intended outcomes, then the data should demonstrate an upward trend. For instance, if the program was successful in instilling a sense of resilience in young people, then we should see self-rated resilience levels rise steadily with time since program commencement. If not, then it is critical that you dig deep into the program to find out what needs fine-tuning.
Long-term tracking also helps you to understand whether your program had a sustained impact on its beneficiaries. In the mentoring example, we would rather see a steady increase and then a general sustaining of optimal resilience levels, as opposed to a temporary spike and then lull straight after the program.
Being able to show change in an outcomes report is a compelling story that will keep your internal and external stakeholders engaged.
So how do you obtain and showcase trending data?
First, you will need to structure up your data collection plan to collect data at regular time points before, during and after the program. Then it’s a matter of collecting the data, analysing and presenting what you’ve found in charts that show change over time.
Unfortunately, I have seen many organisations struggle with collecting change data over time, due to the complexity and manual effort required to administer follow-up surveys and matching of the data to individual beneficiary records.
Thankfully there are a number of effective and affordable tooling options that are available to help automate and streamline the process. For example, the Socialsuite platform automates data collection by automatically sending out follow-up surveys and automatically analyses the responses with minimal manual effort required .
Adding context and colour around reported change over time will add a boost to your outcomes report.
Context here refers to those beneficiary (or survey respondents in general) demographic characteristics that may have influenced the outcomes you are reporting on. Some examples to take into consideration include:
Your internal and external audience would be especially interested in understanding how your reported change and outcome findings vary by beneficiary type. For instance,
Are beneficiaries living in rural areas more likely to outperform those living in metropolitan cities?
Are older beneficiaries more likely to lag behind younger beneficiaries?
Does educational attainment level make a difference to the magnitude of outcomes observed?
These different dimensions in the data will help inform nuances and refinements that your program can make to enhance its impact for all.
So how do you filter your outcome findings as a function of key beneficiary characteristics?
A starting point is to make sure you are capturing this information in your surveys, by having a demographic section. Once the survey data starts to come in, you can then filter the results by key demographic characteristics. Most electronic survey and statistical analysis packages will allow you to do so.
The Socialsuite platform comes with interactive report dashboards that lets you filter outcome reports based on predefined beneficiary characteristics, in just a few clicks. This saves you from having to learn how to use a statistical analysis package! You really don’t have to be a researcher or an analyst to produce and share such immensely valuable insights.
Outcome reports are highly valuable assets for any social purpose organisation. They provide insights into what is working and what isn’t, and serve as a compass on how you can be more for the people and communities that you serve.
Outcome reports can come in different shape and sizes, and there is no one industry best-practice template. A report that will stand the test of time is one that shows change over time, and respects nuances in the data with respect to basic demographic characteristics.
Ongoing outcome reporting is more effective than a once-off snapshot in time. This means that the end-to-end process needs to be sustainable and pragmatic for your organisation’s level of skills and capacity. Supported with the right tooling to simplify and automate the reporting process, any organisation regardless of size and budget could be well on its way to generating show-stopping outcome reports.