The Ideaction Blog

Congrats!  You’re Data-Driven.  Now Ask Yourself,  How Mission-Driven Is My Data?

Posted by by Jim Chesire & Andrew Rice on July 27, 2014

Non-profits that are able to adapt to the new social impact market while staying true to their missions – what we call new market leaders – will be able to reap great benefits in growth and sustainability, while those who aren’t will be on a path to go out of business.

One major currency in this new social impact market is your organization’s ability to manage, use and report on your data – your program performance management infrastructure.

The New Speed of Effectiveness

A fundamental characteristic of the new market is the wider availability of information to make better decisions and take more precise action, for both funders and providers.  In the old-market, monitor-and-evaluate days, a premium was placed on certainty of information over speed of action. The new market, still valuing classic program evaluation, relies more on real-time, data-informed continuous improvement much like businesses operating in the for-profit space.  However, the high complexity and high stakes unique to social service systems require fast, nimble and very high quality decisions. Our current state of technology finally allows program providers and program funders to move at that speed with greater clarity.

Old Challenges Remain

Non-profit organizations incur significant costs in time and funds to manage and braid together incredibly diverse portfolios of grants and gifts in order to stay afloat and effective. These costs leave little room for executives to prioritize operational innovation and strategic change management within an annual, much less quarterly, cycle.  Organized strategic decision-making is still typically done only when pro-bono consulting services can be secured, often on a 3-5 year time cycle.  

We have seen new market leaders find ways to innovate every day. They use their programmatic performance management data as a support to their human capital. Individual staff are enabled and empowered in their daily, weekly and monthly cycles of work to make increasingly innovative and strategic operational decisions that can collectively move the organization forward as a whole in very short cycles.  How do they do this?   

Window of Opportunity

To seize this window of opportunity presented by the changing market while accounting for the pressing realities most non-profit organizations face, we developed the program Performance Management Infrastructure (PMI) Assessment based on research and nearly a decade of working to build the organizational capacity of community based non-profits in Chicago.  Through our work, we’ve come to believe that there are five key elements of an organization’s PMI that must be present in order for programs to be data-informed and that data to be mission-driven:

  1. Research Base:  Organizations draw on research of their own or sufficiently similar program models to optimize program practices and PMI design.
  2. Theory of Change:  Organizations have a framework of accountability to accurately assess the quality of their practices and results.
  3. Management Information System (MIS):  Organizations align their data collection and assessment practices to their mission through technology.
  4. Data Quality:  Organizations have confidence that the goals they set and the actions they take are grounded in the day-to-day realities of their programs.
  5. Continuous Improvement & Data-Informed Culture:  Organizations have staff who are bought in to measure and assess their performance in the context of their daily experiences and using that information to continuously improve the quality of their work.

What’s Next?

Our goal is to create a research-validated, standardized framework for benchmarking how well structured an organization is to transform granted dollars, through its mission, into results achieved. However you do it, we strongly urge you to find a low-cost way to reliably assess your program performance management infrastructure together with assessments of your organization’s financial and administrative capacity.

For more information about implementing a Performance Management Infrastructure, a workshop for your team, or to share your success story, reach out to us.

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