Introducing Good Measure: Using data to measure what matters

 “Anything that can be measured can be improved.”
–Michael Dell

My work at the foundation focuses primarily on Central Texas initiatives where we support partners who implement effective programs that improve the lives of the people in our community.  It’s an ambitious goal to say the least, one that begs a multitude of questions.  How do we know that we are changing people’s lives?  That the services our partners are offering are effective?  That what we’re doing is working? The simple answer: Data.  To be able to answer the above questions, it’s important that the organizations we support are collecting, analyzing and reporting on the “right” data . Simply put, it is the key to continuously improving program success.

And that’s how Good Measure was born. A group of Central Texas funders joined together to pool resources, commit staff time and provide a unified voice concerning the importance of using evaluation for learning and continuous improvement.  What started as frequent meetings over sandwiches has morphed into a full-blown project to ensure our partners are measuring what matters.

In 2015, we launched our first event the Data Institute where over 200 local nonprofit staff participated in technical workshops and organization culture discussions. In 2016, we offered a Measuring What Matters series to deep dive on data-related projects for nonprofits with coaching support from top local evaluators. Additionally, we hosted two technical webinars for data visualization, so nonprofits could add new ways to tell their stories of impact.

Why data matters

An internal study commissioned by the foundation in 2016 found that the biggest barriers to getting timely findings for program evaluation are limited staff time; timing of the outcome data release; and difficulty gathering appropriate outcome data. Of those who cited the lack of time to address data, 53 percent shared that they believed technology could make tedious processes more efficient. In talking with our own partners, our funding peers and third-party data partners such as E3 Alliance, we have found that there are a few data-related themes that consistently arise as challenges.

  • First, the process for accessing external data is cumbersome and time-consuming, driven by the need to have separate data sharing agreements for each project or data request for each organization.
  • Second, a lack of formal data processes, clearly identified roles and responsibilities, and consistent cadence for release of data add a level of complexity to the already challenging data management process.
  • Third, limited resources for data analysis and evaluation restrict the effectiveness of data use. Both service providers and the district have resourcing challenges in these areas. For service providers, most rarely have a dedicated role to collect or analyze data.

Good Measure goals

Given the above challenges, Good Measure has committed to the following goals:

Improve Evaluation Capacity: Ensure nonprofits receive the funding, training and tools they need to collect and analyze data to better understand their own impact and support continued improvement.

Enhance Community Access to Quality Data: Establish robust systems, processes, and infrastructure that enable organizations to access and utilize community data to inform strategy and action.

Promote a Shared Vision for Evaluation & Learning: Encourage nonprofit organizations and funders to embrace a culture of learning and to develop a shared understanding that data and evaluation play a critical role for both organizational and community improvement.

What’s next?

Given the success of the programming above, we’re meeting the demand for more programming opportunities by offering the following:

  • New! Data Leaders Academy: A nine-month program designed for nonprofit professionals to become true data champions and build an organizational culture that regularly uses data to amplify impact.
  • Measuring What Matters: This series of sessions provides customized support for tackling the critical work of managing outcomes with the assistance of your teammates and expert coaches.
  • Data Visualization Webinars: A two-part data visualization webinar series with Ann Emery that will help build skills in data visualization design principles and techniques.
  • Funder Convenings: Sessions with local funders to share Good Measure’s work and invite them to join us in supporting community partners with program success.
  • Data Institute: A symposium for community partners to learn about the use of data and how they can make a greater impact for their organization and community through measurement and skills building.

We will be sharing stories this year of our partners who are using the “right” data to create an even bigger impact in our community.  Follow what we’re doing on the Good Measure website!

About Good Measure:

Good Measure is an association of philanthropic organizations such as private foundations, corporate foundations, family foundations and similar grantmaking organizations. Its members are dedicated to collaboration, transparency, measurement and innovation to maximize their grantees’ ability to transform lives. Good Measure produces educational programs, provides mentorship and training opportunities and works for increased access to quality data.