Just as in business, high-performing nonprofit and governmental organizations are driven by data. Leaders use data to identify what’s working (and what’s not), identify and resolve problems, and improve program and service outcomes.1 In business terms, this is called Performance Management. Organizations that implement performance management practices can increase effectiveness and have better data to provide funders on program success.
Recently, PerformWell.org, which is a partnership among Child Trends, the Urban Institute, and Social Solutions, called together leaders in the field of human services who have successfully taken the leap toward performance management to discuss key challenges for the road ahead, and brainstorm possible solutions. The “After The Leap” meeting communicated several key points about common challenges and potential solutions. Below, we describe three major phases of performance management, embedding several points that emerged from this meeting.
1. Performance Planning with Stakeholders
- Develop a Theory of Change/Logic Model: This is considered an important first step in the performance management process, and includes developing or updating a theory of change and logic model, which are based on research.
- Identify Performance Measures. Second, practitioners must identify key performance measures or assessment tools related to service delivery, service receipt, and outcomes. Free online resources, such as PerformWell.org, can help practitioners in this process. It is also valuable to identify contextual data on participant characteristics, and risk and protective factors.
- Building a Performance Management System. Attendees at the “After The Leap” conference identified the need to establish and support an infrastructure for collecting, entering, checking, analyzing, and reporting data, as well as developing clearly articulated roles and responsibilities for program staff.
2. Performance Measurement
- Collecting and Entering the Data: The regular, accurate collection and entry of information related to participant characteristics, service delivery, service receipt, and outcomes is a necessary but not sufficient step to performance management. Several leaders (and practitioners) we spoke with at the meeting noted that many organizations lack the manpower, funding, and/or knowledge to collect and enter the data.
- Coding and Analyzing the Data: Constructing individual-level and aggregate-level variables and analyzing these variables (over time or at one point in time) is necessary to develop emerging findings.
- Sharing and Reporting the Data: The internal sharing and reporting of data in useable formats, such as bar charts and line graphs, is needed to better understand emerging findings.
3. Performance Management
- Applying the Data. Managers using the data to diagnose problems and develop strategies for improving stakeholder performance, and to inform program changes or “midcourse corrections” to program design and service delivery, is the critical last step of the performance management process. Two landmark books – the Leap of Reason and Working Hard—and Working Well—offer examples of success stories and practical guidance from researchers and organizational leaders about how to conduct performance management. Both are free to download from Leapofreason.org.
Having a strong performance management system is an important element of any evidence-based, data-driven organization. It helps organizations assess program effectiveness and ensure that the quality of services they provide is high; and it helps funders gather the information they need to make more strategic decisions and achieve greater overall impact. Unfortunately, many organizations lack the funding, staffing, and technical assistance needed to identify performance indicators and develop a system of performance management. As the speakers noted during this meeting, organizations and their funders can take a lesson from the health care field, and begin to invest more heavily in performance management to promote highly effective, data-driven organizations.
Mary Terzian, Research Scientist
 Auspos, P.; and Kubisch, A.C. 2012.Performance Management in Complex, Place-Based Work: What it is, what it, Isn’t, and Why it Matters. The Aspen Institute, Washington, DC