Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity

BlogYouth & Young AdultsMay 26 2011

Mario Morino, McKinsey & Company, and a host of notable nonprofit leaders (including Child Trends’ Kristin Moore, Karen Walker, and David Murphey) have collaborated on a new book that presents a candid indictment of the state of “outcomes assessment” in the social sector. “We funders need to help our grantees define, create, and use the information they need to be disciplined managers,” says Morino, “rather than foisting unfunded, often simplistic, self-serving mandates on our grantees.”

The book, available at leapofreason.org,  calls on funders to empower nonprofits to manage smarter through greater use of information on performance and outcomes—rather than forcing them to meet myriad evaluation and reporting requirements that do little to help the organization learn and improve.

Performance Management:  the Neglected Step in Becoming an Evidence-Based Program.

Moore, Walker, and Murphey contributed a chapter to Leap of Reason, “Performance Management:  the Neglected Step in Becoming an Evidence-Based Program.”  In it, they discuss the positive trend of increased evaluation and how, over time, more and more attention is being paid to evaluation’s “thoroughbreds”: random assignment, quasi-experimental, and implementation evaluations.  While this is a positive trend, in the rush to evaluate and create new evidence-based programs, the critical step of establishing effective performance management systems is often neglected.  Performance management–the ongoing process of collecting and analyzing information to monitor program performance–helps organizations to examine program implementation and success over time.  Indeed, the program performance management  systems step should typically come before any thoughts of implementing a formal outcomes or impact evaluation.

To read more about a case study of performance management, for examples of how performance management can help your organization, and for additional “essays by experts and other practitioners walking the talk”, click here.

What is “performance management?”

This Child Trends Research to Results Brief, Performance Management and Evaluation:  What’s the Difference? published in January 2011, lays out the systematic process underlying performance management and distinguishes it from evaluation’s many forms. As the Performance Management chapter in Leap of Reason details, varied steps that make sure that a program is implemented correctly can be considered an element of performance management (for example, ensuring that program participants meet eligibility requirements).  However, programs that take full advantage of performance management collect the right information on an ongoing basis and know the benchmarks that they need to reach.  Also, if a program fails to reach those benchmarks, the right performance management system would have the data to identify the problem, and the willingness to adapt to address challenges that arise.