Jane Grant, Queensland Council of Social Service

QCOSS is currently delivering a series of workshops across the state exploring how organisations can measure outcomes using the Results Based Accountability™ framework. Our main reason for doing so is that our members asked for it. Late in 2013 QCOSS surveyed its members asking what support needs they had for the coming year. Overwhelmingly, our members asked for workshops on how they could define, measure and articulate the outcomes of the work they do. 
This reflects a growing interest in the human services field in using an outcomes mind-set to achieve greater social impact.

At last year’s Measuring Social Outcomes conference, Dr Andrew Young, Chief Executive Officer at the Centre for Social Impact, talked about why numbers are so important and reflected on the opportunity to ensure that capital and capabilities are directed to the right places and purpose. 

“We have an amazing opportunity as a social impact system to base what we do on a stronger definition and measurement of outcomes and to really change how effective our system is. I think if we can get a few things right over the next few years, we can make quantum change in the effectiveness of our system.

I don’t mean our social impact system is, or ever will be, a neat orderly structured set of processes or one we can touch and feel and see... but in our system people make decisions, resources get allocated, priorities get determined, some things get funded and some don’t… We put our people on certain priority issues. 

How does our complex mix of organisations and funding and processes determine where to place the priorities? Are the incentives we give individuals and organisations within this broader system aligned well with what we would want from the system as a whole?”

He argues that the answers to these question lie in:

  • Defining ourselves – our organisations, our missions, our strategies, our activities – in terms of social outcomes,
  • Effectively measuring – and transparently reporting – our progress in achieving these outcomes, and
  • Funding in a way that responds to and rewards effective delivery of outcomes.

For Dr Young, above all measuring outcomes is about getting people and systems to re-focus on what they were trying to achieve in terms of outcomes in the first place. He argues that numbers are important - that we must care about the numbers, because behind every number is a person.

Perhaps Dr Young says it best when he quotes from Mario Morino’s book ‘Leap of reason: Managing to outcomes in an era of scarcity’:

"The Managing to Outcomes banner is not about pushing non-profits to drink the metrics Kool-Aid, implement fancy reporting technologies, or adopt complex measurement methodologies. It is about encouraging non-profits and funders to cultivate for themselves an outcomes-focused mindset and the passion to be as effective as we possibly can for those we serve!” 

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