Policymakers, public officials, and communities are demanding established approaches to addressing social issues now more than ever. However, using data to measure program outcomes – at any scale – is no small task. Effective social services rely on collaboration and communication between agencies, partners, and local community leaders alike. At the heart of it all, the data that agencies collect and evaluate can truly shape the story that enables social services organizations to continue and grow.
As a result, the software put in place to support these services must be built for today’s challenges as well as future obstacles. Regardless of the solution your agency or program has in place, it’s important to take the time to evaluate the capacity to capture the necessary indicators and outcomes.
Old software makes data entry and social outcomes measurement difficult, time-consuming, and often lacks critical features needed for effective analytics to last. If an enterprise organization expands to offer more programs using only single-purpose software, there is an increased risk of technical debt and copy-pasted workarounds to deal with when new challenges arise.
If organizations are unfortunate enough to get to this point, it takes a deliberate, concerted effort from experts to carefully untangle the threads and regroup. When agencies utilize efficient tools, they can adequately coordinate and collaborate with organizations, allowing them to achieve a 360 view of their impact and a clearer understanding of what is working and what’s not. Investing in data-focused technology early in program development leads to a unified process with clearer results down the road. Consider the following framework for your organization.
Important steps for early-stage social service programs focused on scale:
1. First, develop a plan for collecting data on unified benchmarks your organization can rally behind.
2. Select and adapt aggregate measures to facilitate tracking on public benchmarks. For example, how do your participants compare against national standards? What measurement methods can be adapted to fit these standards?
3. Utilize these successful benchmark measures to apply for competitive funding and continuously improve service delivery. With more unified data, organizations can harness said data for more comprehensive reporting and secure long-term funding. When asked what the top considerations funders use to determine whether to fund an organization, 98% of them said impact is among their top three.
4. Identify potential gaps and address challenges using data insights. Dashboards are a fast and easy way to identify trends in participant outcomes.
As your organization grows, consider the following questions:
- What insights can be derived by connecting directly with new participants, and how can this be effectively communicated to your staff?
- If reporting requirements change, is your solution prepared to support program evaluation staff?
- How can your data management solution help reduce costs and identify where to focus efforts?
- What additional support might your organization require to provide services?
Here at Social Solutions, our Product and Data Science teams think about these challenges every day when we talk with clients and assess data. Data helps build the bridges and social support systems between organizations in the broader community. When you invest in data-focused technology initially, you enable your organization to proactively handle service challenge, and you set yourself up for success when it comes to effectively measuring your impact in your community.
About the Author
Daniel Tihanyi is a data researcher with experience in evaluating enterprise data and programs. Before joining Social Solutions, Daniel worked as a data researcher focusing on program evaluation of child welfare, education, and healthcare public services for State, local, and private clients.