Outcomes Measurement = An Important Discussion that Needs to be Actioned

May 3, 2017 Catherine Xu

I remember the day, I definitely remember the guy. Nick Haney’s on the phone talking about CRM, but for a different purpose. He was talking about client management and he was looking for a way to track outcomes and to measure the difference that his organisation is making in people’s lives.

Wow I thought– this is awesome!

I was fascinated and excited to set a time to meet with Nick. In my preparation for our meeting I researched the organisation and gained an understanding of the services provided by this not for profit which included programs that encompassed working with children with a disability. As the father of Kate, born with Down syndrome, and having increasingly become involved in pro-bono work with not for profit’s, I could not wait to talk to Nick to understand more.

I still remember how I felt walking out of the meeting after Nick had introduced me to a whole different way of thinking. He talked about this guy Mark Friedman and his book Trying Hard is Not Good Enough” and this approach Results-Based Accountability™ (RBA). The thinking was so compelling and made sense. Armed with an understanding of the goals, current situation of the organisation and the capabilities they required for an outcomes focused client management system I wondered if trying to customise a generic CRM to meet this need was the right answer.

This was to be first of many meetings and discussions with Nick – deep, often passionate discussions about how technology could support this RBA approach. Nick ultimately left this organisation and I never ended up providing a solution, but by that time Nick had already started me on a journey of discovery in how to apply technology to operationalise an outcomes-based approach.

And that’s the great thing that Nick provided me with – an insight and way of looking at things that took me beyond just a discussion on “Outcomes Measurement”. My reflections come after 5 years and hundreds of meetings and discussions with:

  • Some of the leading thinkers around outcomes both locally and internationally
  • Organisations that had formed a Community of Practice
  • Organisations that aspired to and achieved Outcomes Management
  • Board members and executives struggling on where to start
  • Communities and some “leaders” that talked and theorised a lot but just never got started

Just as I had experienced in adopting the concept of CRM in the for profit world, what developed were two very different paths and results, based on how people and organisations tackled this problem. The challenge for Social Good organisations was rooted in the same challenge that I saw in poor performing organisations in the For Profit sector. There was a disconnect between the aspirations, the mission/vision of the organisation, and how things were actually being done on the ground. It manifested itself with a lot of good people with great intentions not achieving the impact that they were capable of because there was no compass to guide their work.

This was where the road became divided, as for some organisations the discussion is all about the measurement,  and just as in the For Profit sector the domain of slow moving, consultant led projects stuck in theory that seem to be all talk but with limited clarity and poor execution.

What transpired for me was the link between what I had seen to be successful in the for profits and what was needed in social good organisations in applying technology. It was all about operationalising the process, engraining it into the day to day, engaging with it, reporting and analysing it, talking about it, acting on it, living it, improving it and using it beyond the boundaries of their own organisation in how they worked with others.

The simple analogy that many would have seen can be identified as follows:

  • A CRM implementation that is effectively a glorified address book and often “automated chaos” that resulted from a lack of clarity and simplification
  • A CRM that been implemented based on a deep understanding of complex processes where time has been taken to create clarity and simply the complex processes:
    • Identification of 4-5 headline measures in each key area
    • Consideration on how people, teams and organisations collaborate
    • Change management that combines respect for the work of the front-line staff whilst addressing the data driven or evidence based approaches that are so critical to sustaining the work
    • A deeper understanding of the ‘why’ or in RBA speak:
      • How much did we do?
      • How well did we do it?
      • Is anyone better off?

Through all of this I realised that the most successful projects that I had seen across my 30 years of applying technology to solve problems, affect actionable change and achieve sustainable improvement, and this was a certain way of thinking identified by the RBA as “Turn the Curve” thinking.

“Once you identify the most powerful measure(s) to improve, RBA provides a step-by-step process to get from ends to means.”

My intention in writing this piece is to cut through what I envisage as being the clear road block to the significant systems change that is so needed and so close at hand with the technology available to support. Boards, management and staff alike need to educate themselves on this way of thinking and to just get started on operationalising Outcomes Measurement, and not just talking about it.

So take up the baton, let’s continue the discussion, find a Community of Practice like the Blackbaud Ecosystem of Social Good and … let’s just get started.

Outcomes Management = Operationalising Outcome Measurement = Results and Impact

Outcomes Measurement = An Important Discussion that Needs to be Actioned




Greg Simmons

Greg Simmons

Greg is the Outcomes Business Manager at Blackbaud Pacific and President/Chair of Down Syndrome NSW.Through the good fortune of having a daughter born with Down Syndrome, Greg has spent almost 22 years sitting on not-for-profit boards and finance/fundraising committees.

In 2012 he co-founded (with his mentor, the late Barry Easy OAM) the Kuringgai Chase Community-based Fun run to raise money for his local Special Olympics program. His passion comes from 17 years of providing pro-bono fundraising advice to charities and helping them apply client-focused software to achieve their mission.

The post Outcomes Measurement = An Important Discussion that Needs to be Actioned appeared first on Blackbaud Pacific.

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