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Our last post in the Data Analysis for Nonprofits series talked about how to transition from measuring outputs to measuring results (or outcomes). The output vs. outcome decision is an easy one to make when you see the difference in the figures you’ll be able to present; but once you’ve decided to make the switch, how will you choose the right outcomes to measure?

You may be thinking, but results are results — what does it matter which results I measure and report? The truth is, choosing the right outcomes to measure matters a great deal, and can make a world of difference in how your efforts are perceived — by donors, fellow nonprofits, and even the very people you’re working to help.

In Action: Peel Region’s Family Literacy Program

The Region of Peel Human Services team runs a free literacy program aimed at helping parents better support their children’s development. They offer workshops and activities designed to increase vocabulary and writing skills and make math and reading a part of children’s regular routine. The program is offered in English, French, Punjabi and Mandarin.

After running the program for a time, the region needed to measure its success to determine whether or not it merited continued funding. They had lots of data to work with, but choosing the right outcomes was critical to allow them to effectively measure the success of their efforts. They came to Datassist for help.

Using the Peel Literacy Program as an example, let’s examine how to choose the right outcomes to demonstrate the impact your organization is making.

Define Your Goal

This may seem obvious, but choosing the goal of the program for which you’re measuring outcomes is an important — but sometimes overlooked — step. The more specific your goal, the easier it will be to choose the right outcomes to measure. Defining specific program goals early on will also help you implement your project in a way that allows for accurate measurement of progress indicators.

Define your goals early on to choose the right outcomes.

For example, if you’re running a nutrition program in a low-income or poverty-stricken area, possible outcomes you could aim for include:

  • Feeding the maximum number of people possible within your budget
  • Educating participants on affordable healthy eating habits
  • Reducing health problems caused by malnutrition

All of these are noble goals, but your criteria for success will vary depending on which your organization is targeting — which is why it’s critical to define your goal before you begin attempting to measure your impact.

In the case of the Peel Region Literacy Program, the goal was straightforward: program leaders hoped to increase literacy levels in the community.

Build a Measurement Framework

Once you’ve determined what the goal of your program or organization is, you’ll need to start working on ways to measure it. If you’re building a measurement framework as you undertake implementation of a new program, ideally you’ll be able to set up your processes in ways that are easy to measure. If your program is already underway and you need to begin measuring to show impact, you’ll have to examine the tools at your disposal.

Literacy program organizers at the Region of Peel started by discussing the prospect of measurement with staff and volunteers at all levels. They wanted to learn what staff naturally looked to when asked to determine the progress of participants. Key progress markers cited included:

  • Involvement of multiple family members
  • Repeat attendance
  • Increase of library book checkout activity
  • Increase in difficulty level of books being checked out
  • Increase in complexity of sentences used in the waiting area before/after classes

This set of indicators was combined with literacy tests administered before, during, and after program participation to create a set of formal indicators the region would use to measure the impact their program was having in the community.

Simplify Data Collection

Making data collection natural, easy, and efficient is a crucial step to effective impact measurement. If program administrators, facilitators, or participants find it difficult or inconvenient to provide data on progress indicators, your results may not accurately reflect the impact your team is having.

Peel Literacy Program administrators created a simple data entry form and made it available on staff tablets. Staff could quickly and efficiently enter new progress figures, and program administrators could combine that data with literacy test results for a clear and complete picture of the difference they were making to community members who took advantage of the program.

By carefully defining their goals, formalizing a set of metrics used to measure progress and impact, and ensuring data was collected in a straightforward, efficient way, the Region of Peel was able to effectively determine the value of their literacy program and allocate resources appropriately. They could maximise the return on their investment of time and money by ensuring their efforts were, in fact, making a difference to community residents.

Choose the Right Outcomes with Datassist

Are you part of a nonprofit team looking for a way to demonstrate the impact of your efforts? At Datassist, our goal is to help your team capture the hearts and minds of your audience.

We pair rigorous data collection and analysis with compelling visualizations and knowledge dissemination pieces that make information you gather useful, accessible, and beautiful. If you’d like our help choosing the right outcomes to measure or presenting your data in a way that both engages and educates, get in touch with us today.

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