Tips & Tools for Developing Metrics/Indicators
“People operate off of beliefs and biases. To the extent you can eliminate both and replace them with data, you gain a clear advantage.”
― Michael Lewis, Author, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
This month we are working on metrics and indicators with our Social Impact Collaborative* cohort. Indicators provide actionable data and the ability to hone in on what is happening within a program/initiative.
Robust indicators have several parts:
(1) Who is changing? (2) What will change? (3) How much do we expect to happen (when applicable)? (4) By when does this need to happen?
Targets add in an additional question: How many/how much do we expect to change?
Below are a few tips to keep in mind when developing your organization’s metrics. These tips are described in the Results Based Accountability Guide.
- Proxy Power. Your indicators should say something of central importance about the outcome or represent the outcome. Think about if an indicator really gets to the heart of the matter. For example, would obesity rates be a good proxy related to an outcome focused on the health and wellness of children? Or would a different indicator be appropriate?
- Data Power. You need to be able to collect data on the indicators that you have designed. Some ways to think about data power include if you have timely access to the data, if it will not overburden stakeholders with painstaking data collection methods, and if the data will be of high quality. While you can address some of these issues during the tool development phase of the work, it is good to be realistic about what data your organization can and cannot collect.
- Communication Power. Your indicators must have clarity with diverse audiences. Think about if your indicators would pass a public square and/or social media test. If you had to explain to a diverse audience what you meant by children are healthy and ready for school, what two to three pieces of data would you use to demonstrate that?
Also keep the following in mind:
- Don’t try to measure everything under the sun. Often programs will attempt to measure too many indicators. This not only causes data burden, but also can be confusing to analyze and draw meaningful conclusions about the data. We recommend a focused approach that includes the articulation of no more than 5 indicators per outcome.
- Recognize that this is a process. As a program evolves, so might its logic model, outcomes, and indicators. Remember to put your best foot forward and design indicators that are meaningful to your program now. As you start to collect and analyze data, you will develop a sense of if your program is a) having its intended impact and b) if you are collecting the “right” data to understand outcomes and impact. From there, you can revise as needed.
Below are a few resources to use when developing your metrics/indicators:
- Measurement as Learning. This Bridgespan article presents an overview of performance measurement in the non-profit sector and describes some of the key facets that are critical to the work including indicators.
- Sample indicators for youth outcomes, performing arts and conservation.
- Social Impact Collaborative Indicator Tool. This tool provides a template for you to use when creating your indicators and targets
*The Social Impact Collaborative is being funded by the William Penn Foundation, but the opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the William Penn Foundation.