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Tracking outcomes

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By Steve Butz

The human-services profession has undergone a fairly radical transformation toward accountability over the past few years.

Funding is no longer awarded on the basis of an agency’s carefully worded mission statement, anecdotal evidence that a particular program works, or budgetary needs alone.

Today, foundations and more sophisticated donors increasingly require both qualitative and quantitative data to determine levels of funding and, in some cases, whether to fund at all.

In response to this changing environment, the service community has developed MIS systems to capture and catalogue basic data.

Unfortunately, these systems have frequently been developed from the outside looking in, and significantly miss the mark by divorcing data management from service management.

As a result, one sees a proliferation of numeric outcome data about Program X’s Retention Rate of 87%, and Program Y’s 176 job placements for this fiscal year.

This data is often devoid of the context and effort through which these outcomes are achieved.

The numbers themselves are unsubstantiated and often useless to decisionmakers in the funding community and within the organization itself looking to demonstrate service impact and build replicable service models.

The days of tracking data for data’s sake are over. Data management must more accurately reflect service management by relating the efforts service providers put forth (inputs) to the outcomes that result (outputs).

This essential link will provide the additional benefit of making the data relevant to the direct service providers who are generating it.

Intelligently designed software can allow organizations to better manage the relationship between efforts and outcomes.

By capturing qualitative and quantitative data within the context of their daily work, an auditable, tangible relationship between staff and the outcomes of their work is developed.

Real-time reports can provide constant reminders of the link between their efforts and individual or organizational outcomes. This linkage points staff toward their own “best practices” and provides a context for self-correction to improve results.

This sets the stage for organizational improvement, which happens to be the reason the data is supposed to be collected in the first place.


Steve Butz is president of Social Solutions.

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