If you’ve been a reader of this blog or a user of Social Solutions ETO software for a while, I probably don’t need to convince you that good data collection and analysis processes are important tools that can help your organization improve outcomes. But just having good data isn’t enough to ensure good organizational performance; it’s easy to get bogged down in numbers without having a good understanding of what those numbers mean or how to take actionable steps based on them. This is why it’s important to have both good systems for tracking and evaluating program performance and an understanding of which methods and metrics are most useful to improving your organization’s operational performance.
Continue reading to learn more about how to measure effectiveness of a program and why program effectiveness should be a primary focus for your organization.
How to Define Program Effectiveness
At its most basic, program effectiveness means using resources in the most efficient manner possible to create the the greatest results. This makes program evaluation seem much simpler than it actually is, however, because there are a variety of ways to look at how resources are being counted, how outcomes are being measured, and what high performance looks like.
Let’s take those in reverse order since by starting out with what high performance looks like will help you figure out how to think about resources and results.
Defining High Performance – According to the Performance Imperative Campaign, "High performance is the ability to deliver – over a prolonged period of time – meaningful, measureable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes the organization is in existence to serve." This concept serves as a good guideline for when we think about how to measure effectiveness of a program.
Tracking Resources – While the social service sector often thinks primarily of dollars when thinking of resources, if we look at this definition, we have to also consider human resources, time, and the ability of program staff to sustain efforts, and we have to consider these diverse ways of looking at resources when looking at performance management processes.
Measuring Outcomes – Similarly, this means looking at outcomes in terms of their measurability, impact, and financial sustainability. In other words, what data are you going to need in order to demonstrate that your programs, and the organization behind them, are going to be able to create meaningful change?
So, how does software play into this? Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) software can be incredibly effective, but if you’re not first clear on what you’re trying to accomplish and what metrics you need to measure in order to determine if you’re on the right path, software can be a huge distraction. However, once you’ve decided how to measure effectiveness of a program, ETO software can help improve organizational efficiency and operational performance.
How ETO Software Helps with Program Evaluation
So once you’ve thought through your strategy for program evaluation, including developing a theory of change and a logic model, you’re ready to start thinking about how to implement your ETO software. Here are the three major areas to consider:
Tracking Efforts – While a focus on outcomes is great, it’s also extremely valuable to understand the amount of effort and kind of effort being used in order to create those outcomes. Tracking efforts utilizing ETO software can help you determine:
whether program staff are receiving adequate training and support
if additional resources are needed for successful implementation
how program activities are being implemented
Tracking Outcomes – This is the part that we often focus on when talking about organization performance, so we won’t spend too much time harping on it again. However, an ETO software solution can help your organization visualize outcomes and understand your program data in a faster and more efficient way. It also can help you directly tie in changes in outcomes to changes in effort, moving you closer to a truly efficient organizational model that utilizes evidence-based practices.
Making Progress Towards Sustainability – Without standardized reporting and historical snapshotting, it’s hard to measure direct correlations between inputs and outcomes, and it becomes nearly impossible to track change over time. That’s where ETO software comes in; whether you’re following previously developed evidence-based strategies or blazing new trails, you can be sure your efforts are moving you in the right direction or help determine when a program is not operating at maximum efficiency in time to course-correct.
As you can see, software is not the answer to all your problems. Bad data, unclear objectives, or lack of a clear program evaluation strategy can sabotage a program regardless of having the right technology tools. However, by using ETO software along with a solid strategy for program evaluation, you can feel assured that your organization is well-positioned to make meaningful and lasting change.