The ability to project the effectiveness of your workforce development or other social services programs is crucial. Aside from resource planning purposes, these programs find themselves under scrutiny from federal and state regulatory bodies and potential investors (for social impact bonds). Forecasting gives you the ability to project your results and resource requirements and is an important part of your performance management processes.
What is forecasting?
Forecasting blends marketplace and operational data to project what is most likely to happen based on different scenarios. It can also provide clues as to why you got the results you actually got (and, thus, what you might have to do differently to get better results next time).
For instance. You may have a “sense” of how participants flow through your programming. Suppose X number of people show up for a job fair, then 50 percent of those folks show up for an orientation class. Out of that population, say five percent actually fully complete the training program.
If that model proves to be consistent, you can project how many more people need to attend the job fair to end up with more participants completing the program. If more job fair attendees don’t result in your expected number completions, you’ll can go back and analyze where the breakdown may have occurred, which step in the program needs attention, and how to compensate.
Forecasting uses a scientific approach to analyze the effectiveness of your service delivery, replaces guesswork with data, and looks for improvement opportunities.
Putting Forecasting to Work
The biggest advantage of forecasting is that it allows you to better understand your own data – and any data you share with other agencies – more completely. You are empowered to make actionable changes based on meaningful insights.
For example, let’s say that from one year to another you have the same amount of people enter your program and approximately the same number complete it. Traditional methods of analyzing your program success might say that there’s nothing to learn next year and that it’s “business as usual.”
However, by using analytics to look more closely at your data you may learn that your registrations from job fairs were way down, while registrations from return-to-work programs were higher. Using performance management tools and forecasting, that could lead you to the realization that there’s a much higher success rate from participants who registered through return-to-work programs (and thus, more resources could be spent on them to increase participants and your success rate).
Forecasting really shines, not only by helping you find areas for improvement, but by helping you accurately project your success. Following the example above, you can now use those established success measures to project how many completions you’ll have based on the number of signups you receive from job fairs vs return-to-work programs. What’s more, forecasting can be applied to the interim steps of the process as well:
- Class attendance
- Activity Participation
Each element added to the forecasting calculation increases the accuracy of the final result and allows you to see where a step in the process has gone amiss.
Why don’t more Social Service Programs Use Forecasting?
For the most part, the forecasting tools that are in use are not particularly sophisticated (stacks of spreadsheets, complex Excel documents and non-integrated data analysis tools). The difficulty in using these tools means that a majority of agencies are simply not forecasting.
You may do your best to project next year’s needs based on last year’s top-line results, but without the capacity to dive deeper into what worked (or didn’t) and why, you don’t have the ability to do true forecasting. You end up hoping that what worked last year will work again now – and struggling for answers when it doesn’t.
What’s the right solution?
The easiest and best way to forecast is to integrate the analytics into your performance management processes directly. That’s why we built forecasting capabilities into the analytic features of Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) software. It documents “TouchPoints” (instances of interaction with the participants) so that the progress of activities can be tracked in terms of results, and how different conditions and competencies impacted those results.
It’s all about getting the data you need in a form that tells you something you didn’t know. It correlates a program’s success (or disappointment) with the elements responsible for those results. What were the common elements in participants’ success? Once you’ve identified those elements, forecasting becomes a real tool for making social investments more predictable and, in time, more consistently effective.