How Black Dog made significant capacity gains in impact measurement

As the demand for proving value and impact increases, Black Dog Institute has a multitude of reasons to develop a robust program.

While around 5 million Australians experience symptoms of mental illness each year, roughly 60% of them won’t seek help – that’s around 3 million people not receiving the support they need.

As the only medical research institute dedicated to investigating mental health across people’s lifespan in Australia, the Black Dog Institute aims to create a mentally healthy world for everyone.

“We integrate our research strategy and our findings with our service delivery – with our education programs, clinical services, policy advocacy and range of digital treatment and prevention programs,” says Andrea Fogarty, who is part of the Program Evaluation team at Black Dog Institute. “We want to make sure that we reach the public with trustworthy, evidence-based solutions.”

Andrea evaluates how products that have been tested in research and proven to be effective are made available to the public. She designs evaluations to assess whether they're still as effective as they were in more tightly controlled research environments.

We want to make sure that we reach the public with trustworthy, evidence-based solutions.

Andrea Fogarty, Program Evaluation
Black Dog Institute
Andrea Fogarty, Program Evaluation
5 million
Australians experience symptoms of mental illness each year.
60%
Australians' experience symptoms of mental illness that won't seek help.
1/5
1 in 5 of us will experience symptoms of mental illness in any given year.

The role of impact measurement at Black Dog Institute

As a global leader in medical research,  Black Dog Institute has always been outcomes driven.

But as the demand for proving value and impact increases, the Institute has a multitude of reasons to develop a robust program.

“To deliver on our vision, we can't just look at things in research and hope they'll perform once they're out there. We need to be sure that something works the way we say it does,” Andrea says.
“As an NGO, we also need to ensure that all our activity is in line with our strategic goals, and it's having an impact for the better - and we can't know that without measuring impact.”

And, Andrea says, without measuring outcomes it’s more and more difficult to get funders onboard.

“Increasingly, all our funders are basing their decisions about where to spend their dollars on evidence that a program or service actually works. They need to know that we have the capacity and skills to take it to a wider scale and reach people.”

It’s a similar story with Blackdog’s corporate clients.

“If a business is paying us a lot of money to deliver training, they need to know that there's a return on that investment. We need to show them that it was worth spending money on having a more mentally healthy workplace.
“We really don't like to make any decisions without being guided by data of some kind.”

Navigating measurement challenges

But running a sustainable outcomes measurement program doesn’t come without its challenges.

“We need to be able to follow people across time, have all their data at different time points together. And we need them to trust that we're conducting data collection ethically and in privacy for a purpose that they can buy into not just collecting data for the sake of data.”

Andrea suggests keeping your beneficiaries at the heart of designing the program is critical.

Ask the right questions at the right time, in accessible and seamless formats for whoever you're seeking the data from is crucial. She also recommends working out how to collect and store data in a way that is secure, reliable and conducted ethically.

The Black Dog Institute was also collecting and analyzing data manually which was very labour and time intensive.

“In the past, we had a lot of stitched together cross-sectional databases, and trying to match things back together was a huge headache. Technology has freed up a lot of our time.”

Accessing reliable data in an instant

For the Black Dog Institute, finding a technology partner like Socialsuite has been a game changer.

“One of the pluses of Socialsuite was that it allows us to do repeated measures on the same individuals with all their data linked,” Andrea says.
“We've had a real gain in capacity. As the person who had to deal with the data myself, it has saved me days upon days of trying to match data sets back together.”

Andrea can now download a data set in an instant for thousands of people that have all done the same workshop, or just the 10 people who did the workshop on a set day.

“I can be sure that if they've answered the question correctly, all the data that's coming out is reliable. It’s saved us a lot of time and I can be sure that the data is as good as we can get.”

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