Getting Started

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Your outcome measurement efforts will benefit greatly from some planning at the front end. Before you jump head first into the outcome measurement process, convene stakeholders and organizational leadership to discuss the important questions. Where will you focus your efforts? What are you hoping to accomplish through the process? Who will be involved in the process? How will you engage members of your organization in the process? What is your timeline? What resources are at your disposal? Once you have answers to these questions, you can begin to look more closely at the specific outcomes and performance indicators that will drive the outcome measurement process.

Narrow your scope and clarify your goals.

In starting out, it's important not to try to measure too much. Start slowly and learn from your experience. Don't try to perform outcome measurement at the same time for everything you do. Pick one program or service as a starting point. Questions that will help you brainstorm where to begin include:

  • Is a funder, board member, or staff person requesting that you look at a particular program?
  • Do you have a new program with an unproven track record?
  • Do you have an existing service with shaky performance?
  • Do you have an effective program that you want to document as being so?

Once you have decided what program to evaluate, explore the purpose for the outcome measurement processes. There are a variety of reasons that could motivate outcome measurement, including:

  • To support new program design and identify success in a new program area
  • To support program redesign by determining whether the program's underlying theories and assumptions are correct
  • To support funding requests and describe how you will measure a program or service's impacts
  • To support staff or board planning processes and report on a program's impact
  • To support a funder's request for evidence of the program's effectiveness
  • To support internal reviews and determine whether to continue to allocate funding to a program
  • To support organization-wide quality improvement and refine program delivery

Assemble a well-rounded team.

The outcome measurement team will require a well-rounded group with varying skill sets and a devoted leader.  As you begin to assemble your outcome measurement team, consider who on your staff possesses the following skills:

  • Project coordination, including laying out tasks in a sequence, informing other staff of their roles and assignments, providing assistance to the team as they complete their parts of the evaluation process, and ensuring that the work is being done
  • Service or program knowledge, including the ability to identify the relationship between the activities being provided and the intended impacts and an understanding of the types of outcomes your program could achieve
  • Computer skills, including expertise in formatting surveys and other data collection instruments, creating spreadsheets or databases, and entering data

The outcome measurement process can often feel intimidating or threatening to program staff, as outcome measurement is sometimes a response to poor performance or part of a corrective action plan. To allay your staff's concerns about outcome measurement, involve them in the process whenever possible.

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Analyze your staffing needs.

Download this checklist for information prior to contracting with outside help.

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Outcome measurement is an investment.

Developing an outcome measurement plan will require an investment of time and resources. For organizations first learning outcome measurement, it may take as long as three years to develop a comprehensive outcome measurement system. Timing is also important to funders. Make sure to consider when your funders' reporting cycles are so that you are producing outcome measurement results at a time that aligns with their requests for information about your programs' impacts.  Keep in mind that there are times when conducting outcome measurement may not be a good idea. If your organization is in crisis or severe financial trouble, outcome measurement cannot be a priority.

In addition to investing time, outcome measurement may require an investment of other resources, including:

  • Staff labor
  • Consultants
  • Communication (e.g., postage and telephone)
  • Supplies and equipment
  • Printing