Outcome measurement used to be very time-consuming, manual, and inconsistent. Thankfully, technology has made the practice less painful and a lot more efficient. But there are a number of things organizations need to consider to make sure their measurement programs are effective and meaningful.
We sat down with Shona Ballinger from Development Impact NZ, a leading outcome measurement consultancy, to pick her brain about building the right culture, considering stakeholders, and tips for setting up a sustainable program.
Shona has worked with a number of our customers to help them become Impact driven organizations like Top Blokes Australia, National Centre for Childhood Grief and Seed Foundation Australia to name a few.
Socialsuite was the absolute missing piece of the puzzle.
It starts with ensuring that every step aligns back to the organization’s mission and purpose and the outcomes they intend to deliver to stakeholders, that lead to meaningful and lasting change.
Aligning impact measurement to outcomes, not just outputs can seem challenging, especially when you’re delivering a number of services. Seeing results of their efforts in the data can engage and empower team members to focus on the common goals of your organization. Staff engagement is higher as they want to know if the interventions, services, and programs are working and where they can focus for continuous improvement.
I recommend you define core outcome themes that relate to your organization’s purpose and develop your own outcome measurement framework rather than using an existing one. By developing program indicators that align with your outcomes, your framework and data will connect to your specific services and purpose.
The outcome themes become the narrative used to bring your organization’s purpose and impact measurement to life across your organization.
To get complete buy-in at every step of the journey, engage a range of staff from management, administration, and service delivery so that there is a whole organizational approach to measuring the intended outcomes.
Outcome data helps show how your work is changing lives or where there needs to be a shift in focus. But that only happens if the whole process is manageable, data is relatable, and it clearly tells the story. Together this creates buy-in and impacts organizational focus and culture.
Engaging all stakeholders in the process design, including your theory of change and outcome design can ensure your service delivery is more intentional and leads to more significant results.
At Development Impact, our approach is IMPROVE before PROVE. This means we start with using data to improve the experience for beneficiaries and those close to them. Your measurement data might highlight an area that isn't having as much impact as you thought. You can investigate, and work with delivery staff to make adjustments to achieve the desired result. This way, staff become more engaged with outcome measurement design, data collection, and reports.
Sharing your impact with those who support your organization, such as the board, funders, and partners can help evidence and prove your impact. You may also be in a space of sector advocacy in which this data could drive systematic change at higher levels.
Whatever outcome data you collect, consider it as a tool of delivery, not just as evidence of your work. You could use that data with your beneficiaries to show how they're tracking over time. This can provide a space of reflection and increased engagement in the services.
Staff input is critical at every step of the journey. They want to know if their work is making a difference and creating the impact that they’re seeking to make.
Break down the process into steps. I often describe it like baking scones. There's a recipe with core ingredients that are essential, if you go too far away from the recipe you might get rocks or a sloppy mess but once you understand the base recipe you can adapt to suit, sweet or savory.
At Development Impact, we have a five-step outcome measurement journey that guides our clients and provides clarity of the key stages. Once you understand each step, you can develop timelines and project plans.
The five steps are:
These five steps can take a considerable amount of work. This depends on where your organization is currently at with each step. Once you have the process established for one program or service, you can then repeat the structure for others and become systematic.
Make sure you invest in the foundations of the design, framework, and software. You will save hours of staff time, resulting in quality data that tells an impact story you can be proud of and engages staff in continuous improvement. That investment can be through in-house or external expertise, but it is well worth it.
Ongoing management and engagement are very important. Each step of the data collection impacts the quality of the data. How it is analyzed and used to tell your story is vital. When done well, it can be incredibly empowering for all.
Outcome measurement without technology tends to be subjective, labor-intensive, and prone to error. There's just too much data to manage. Technology offers consistency and objectivity - and it saves you time and money. It allows you to view and drill down on data in so many ways to better understand how your organization is performing.
There are some highly advanced and technical tools like Qualtrics out there that can be helpful but you need specific statistical skills to manage them. Socialsuite for me was the absolute missing piece of the puzzle. With high demands around outcome and impact measurement, it would be costly not to use technology like Socialsuite.
If you’re interested in taking the first steps in your impact measurement journey, why not reach out to Shona’s team at Development Impact NZ and see how they can help. They sectors they have worked in are Youth Development, Disability, Education, Counselling, Out of Home care and youth training and employment.