A critical challenge in outcomes-based reporting is deciding specifically what information will indicate how well the program is doing regarding an intended impact.
As written, outcome statements are usually too broad to enable data collection tools to be developed directly from them. Remember, the purpose of an outcome statement is to describe the intended impact the beneficiaries of your organization experience. For this reason, indicators are used to serve as a bridge between intended outcomes and the actual data collection process. Indicators enable you to determine whether your organization has, in fact, changed in the specific ways that demonstrate your intended outcome has occurred.
In order to serve effectively as a bridge to data collection, indicators must be specific items of information that describe observable, measurable characteristics or changes in corresponding outcomes. Indicators must answer questions like how you will know when changes have occurred and how you will know when you have achieved the outcomes. They must also be measures that can be seen, heard, counted, reported, or enumerated using some type of data collection method.
Here are some tips for creating appropriate indicators:
Develop one to three indicators per outcome desired
Developing one to three indicators is usually a realistic number for each outcome you have identified. Some straightforward outcomes can be quantified easily through the use of only one indicator. Other more complex outcomes will necessitate two or three indicators.
Take into account the feasibility of collecting data for the measurement.
Select the indicators that are most feasible for staff to measure within the time and financial resources available to you, as well as the ones that give you the most useful information about the outcome. It takes time and money to gather and analyze the data for each one. What’s important is not quantity but quality. What’s the best way to see, hear, or read about the change?
Use “if…then statements” to identify faulty indicators.
Look for indicators that are indicative of an outcome rather than a predictor or a result of an outcome. If the relationship between an outcome and its proposed indicator sounds like an “if…then statement,” then it is probably not the right indicator for that outcome.
Use numerical targets instead of ambiguous terms of change.
Impact indicators should always strive to be numerically measurable wherever possible. If a condition is not measurable, it may relate to the outcome but is not always useful as an indicator. Ambiguous terms such as ‘substantial’ or ‘acceptable’ (ex. “Participants demonstrated substantial increase”) that are subject to interpretation should be avoided if numerical targets are able to be set. These numerical targets will not only help measure impact in a quantifiable way, but also give your organization a target to work towards (ex. “Participants demonstrated a 40% increase”).
Want to learn more about how to successfully implement Impact Reporting within your organization? Watch our recorded webinar on Impact and Performance Reporting Best Practices for Human Service Organizations.