In summer 2013, John Bridgeland and Peter Orszag’s “Can Government Play Moneyball?” challenged the government and nonprofit sectors to make greater investments in understanding what works and to pursue a more rigorous approach to evidence and impact.
Today, the spirit of the “moneyball” movement is blossoming. At its core, it’s about organizations improving their performance by continuously tracking whether their programs and services are leading to desired results. Although performance measurement and management is hardly new to the public and nonprofit sectors, it is much more utilized than arguably it has ever been due to demands for greater accountability and growing expectations that organizations do more with less.
Demand for performance management techniques is high
In 2012, the Urban Institute, in partnership with Child Trends and Social Solutions, launched a new tool to help nonprofits measure and manage performance: PerformWell. This resource was designed to fill an information void, help nonprofits identify outcomes and performance indicators, and provide surveys and assessment tools to assist with tracking and reporting.
Since its launch in March 2012, the PerformWell site has had nearly 300,000 visitors and more than 12,500 have signed up for webinars, signaling a genuine need and appetite to engage in this work.
The performance management landscape
PerformWell is only one recent addition to an increasingly vibrant landscape of performance measurement and evaluation resources. In October 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and Liquidnet launched Markets for Good, a forum for sharing innovative ideas, best practices, and diverse points of view for helping the social sector make better decisions and support a “dynamic culture of continuous learning and development.”
America Achieves, through the Results for America Initiative, developed an agenda that calls for a federal evidence and evaluation framework, an increase in the use of evidence in all federal formula and competitive programs, the creation of a federal “what works” clearinghouse, and more accessible, user-friendly, publicly available data.
In December 2013, Leap of Reason and PerformWell partnered to host After the Leap, the first-ever national conference on performance management. Themes from this conference have been repeated in many circles, including the recent Social Impact Exchange (SIE) conference which included a panel on how funders can support the capacity of nonprofits. Although this annual conference is generally geared toward nonprofits and funders interested in scaling social impact, many participants acknowledge that performance and evaluation strategies and practice evolve along a continuum of practice – a message echoed by Nancy Roob at the ATL conference and more recently in her blog post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review series on the “Value of Strategic Planning and Evaluation”.
And not to be left out, foundations are now likely to face increasing scrutiny around investment choices, thanks to a recent entrant to the field – Philamplify – designed by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Just launched in May, the new site is described by the Washington Post as “Yelp for the philanthropy sector.” What distinguishes Philamplify from other efforts to hold foundations accountable is that reviews are conducted independently and with or without the consent of foundations. The goal is to grow the number of foundation assessments from 3 to 100 of the largest foundations in the United States.
A bright future for performance management
As my colleague Jeremy Koulish pointed out last year, “getting to measures that can be applied uniformly across the whole sector is a challenging endeavor.” Yet these resources and initiatives are indicative of growing attention and a sense of urgency around issues of measurement and evaluation for the nonprofit, government, and philanthropic sectors, neither of which are likely to diminish anytime soon.
Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.
Follow Mary Winkler on Twitter @MaryKWinkler.
A version of this piece was originally published in the PerformWell newsletter (July 2014).