Blakely Consulting : The power of the feedback loop

Outcomes measurement empowers organizations and their staff to create more impactful programs. How? By creating a continuous feedback loop that allows you to understand your impact, make adjustments and see how these affect outcomes.

Outcomes measurement empowers organizations and their staff to create more impactful programs. How? By creating a continuous feedback loop that allows you to understand your impact, make adjustments and see how these affect outcomes.

Pieta Blakely, a non-profit consultant, sees these loops occur in smaller and bigger cycles.

Evaluation isn’t a test. It’s an ongoing process of trying things, measuring the results, and making adjustments.

Pieta Blakely, Founder
Blakely Consulting
Pieta Blakely, Founder
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Blakely has been helping non-profits evaluate their programs for the past 10 years.
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Blakely has over four years as a consultant.
“Outcomes measurement empowers your staff to make small adjustments day by day. Bigger feedback loops go to your board and confirm whether your program is even the right thing to be running. It helps everybody to engage productively.”

Blakely has been helping non-profits evaluate their programs for the past 10 years. For the last 4, she’s been a consultant, helping these organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well - building better and more effective programs along the way. Her goal is to help build organizational cultures that thrive on joyful accountability and doing important work well.

“Evaluation isn’t a test. It’s an ongoing process of trying things, measuring the results, and making adjustments.”

Blakely says organizations have a responsibility to make sure they’re serving the community as well as possible. And feedback loops through measurement are a critical part of achieving this.

“If you're not measuring your impact, you don't know if what you are doing is working,” she says. “There's an assumption embedded in a lot of mission-based work, that these communities are lucky that we've showed up. And there's an assumption that these communities are better off with us than without us.
“But we have to justify our presence and the time and energy we take from the people we ask to engage with us. We have an obligation to demonstrate that what we're doing with it provides value – that those who engage with us are going to get some value from it.”

Outcomes measurement also helps create a culture of accountability that is crucial in the non-profit sector.

“Not getting any feedback on the effectiveness of your work can be very demoralising. So creating a culture of accountability is a real value for the people who do the work.”

Blakely also says non-profits have an obligation to leave the programs and organizations that come after you a little better.

“The goal is for the organizations that come after us to be able to learn from what we did and do even better. Because that is how we can amplify our impact, even beyond the time that we might be present in a community. And evaluation and impact measurement helps us do that.”

Find your anchor

The organizations that aren’t collecting data may find it harder to raise funds, get much-needed resources and build the kinds of partnerships without a compelling story to tell.

On the other hand, many organizations that are collecting data are drowning in it and they’re not using it to access information. It’s become more of a burden than a benefit. They’re overwhelmed.

Blakely recommends focusing on just one key measurement to start with and building from there.

“What’s the one measure that if it’s not headed in the right direction, you know you need to stop what you're doing and pay attention? Pick that one thing that tells you that you’re on track and get everybody in the organization focused on this one measure.

After you have some practice, after you understand how to use it, how to discuss it, what it means in your organization, you can start to expand to other things that support that one central measure.”

Blakely says many organizations don’t realize the importance of conversations about the meaning of measurements.

“Conversations allow important things to emerge about how individuals think about constructs like attendance, for instance.
“We tend to think that attendance is the responsibility of the participant - that when they don't show up, it's because of a failure of character. But we need to ask ourselves how the program helps them attend and whether they're not attending our program because they don't get their needs met here. How can we reduce barriers to attendance, and in the process, make our program better?”

The role of technology

When you have clarity and a good understanding of your programs, technology can dramatically improve the efficiency and power of your data collection and analysis.

“Technology can really turn around the analysis time, which is a huge barrier to organizations,” Blakely suggests. “When your people can look at information closer and closer to real time, that's really powerful.

Our programs are here to serve the communities, not to extract more information from them. Participants are here to engage with your programs and your offerings, not to fill in surveys. Your staff are there to teach, engage and counsel people, not to enter data. Technology can help take some of that labour off people's plates and support a process that's more aligned with your organization's values.”

Socialsuite has given Blakely’s clients access to sophisticated data collection. It has enabled Blakely to serve smaller programs that normally wouldn’t have the budgets for manual analysis.

“Socialsuite is really helping level the field for some of my smaller clients. And it's dramatically increasing my capacity as a consultant because I can monitor more projects, when I have a shared platform,” Blakely says.
“It is a sophisticated piece of technology that organizations will have to learn how to use, because it can significantly leverage the capacity of the people who are working on evaluation activities.”

Getting started

If you’re thinking about starting your outcomes measurement journey, Blakely has one key piece of advice.

“Don't overthink it, just start. Take imperfect action. Don’t feel like a data collection plan that is incomplete or is small is worthless. It's not, it's just a first draft.
Don't wait until you think that you have the perfect evaluation plan. Because the reality is it constantly adapts and reflects the programs you’re running. So it's never going to be done. Start by just biting off one little piece at a time.”

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