Outcome measures – Measuring outcomes is difficult

It is easy to measure how much stuff you did.  It is very hard to measure what you actually accomplished. 

It is easy to count:

  • how many counseling sessions you provided to clients,
  • how many people sat through a worship service,
  • how many at-risk children attended your summer camp, or
  • how many nights of lodging and days of counseling you provided to people at your substance abuse shelter.

It is really, really hard to quantify:

  • how many clients were abortion-minded when they arrived at your clinic but actually carried to full-term
  • how much has the spiritual maturity of the congregation improved in the last year, or the last decade
  • how much has the level of substance abuse gone down and how far has academic performance gone up for the at-risk children who attended your camp last summer, or
  • how many addicts starting treatment at your shelter are now free of their addiction and living in stable circumstances.

Those are the changes that you yearn to make.  Making those changes is why you try so hard and give so much of yourself.  You already know how incredibly hard it is to make those changes.  Yet you have the God-given ability to do so and you probably see lots of those kinds of changes.

The funny thing is you probably aren’t too interested in the raw number of pregnancy tests administered or the occupancy load in the shelter (that’s the percentage of beds filled each night).  Do you really, really care about those counts?  I doubt it.

What fires you up?  What keeps you going when you’re discouraged?  I know the answer and it’s the same as the number you need to chase for outcome measures.  It’s the babies you see years later that would have not been born except for your center or the people who permanently kick the habit and keep a solid, honest, paying job for years.  That’s why you do what you do.  The question is how to quantify that.

It is really hard to put those kinds of changes into numbers.  We don’t have a good handle on knowing how to find out those things and we don’t have usable information systems to accumulate the information even if we could count it.  But that is the challenge all of us need to take on.

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