Results Based Accountability: Measuring impact and success
Posted on: November 23, 2020 at 1:35 pm

By: Covita Moroney, CFRE, Associate

has been a year that called you to adapt to one unanticipated challenge after another—factors completely out of your control. Whatever happened “out there” that presented challenges to you, if you are reading this article you are likely seeking a new lens through which to view the outcomes of your past and future efforts to make a difference. One such lens is the Results Based Accountability (RBA) framework.

By this time of year you are assessing the effectiveness of your work. Regardless of the external factors (including COVID-19) you will be held accountable for results—did you turn the curve in a positive direction? Whatever the answer is for 2020, in terms of long term impact on your organization, the key question is: what can I do better in 2021?

Results Based Accountability is a flexible yet highly disciplined framework for monitoring and adjusting your efforts as time and conditions unfold. For both individual work and organizational programs, adopting RBA as tool to “turn the curve” starts by answering six core questions:

1. What is the desired outcome?
2. How are we doing so far?
3. What factors impact us?
4. Who are our partners?
5. What proven strategy will we use?
6. How will we measure success?

1. What is our desired outcome? Whether it is for social service or a fundraising campaign, RBA must have as its foundation a clear outcome indicator—a specific factor that can be measured quantitatively. The indicator must say something core about the result such as: specific reduction in blood sugar, specific dollars raised in a campaign, specific change in COVID-19 mortality rate. It is essential to have quality numeric data will be consistently available and reliable.

2. How are we doing so far? Are we turning the curve in a positive direction? To answer this question, you will create a visual picture that illustrates your progress with the specific indicator identified above. A graph is created to illustrate how the curve has turned over time. On the graph, passing time will be blocks that go from left to right. The numeric indicator data will be mapped vertically on the timeline, with a tick mark for each instance when data was measured. Connect the tick marks and you have the curve. For example, a weekly timeline moving left-to-right will have the reduction in blood sugar drawn as a tick mark placed weekly on the vertical scale. By first mapping past data you’ll reveal the baseline, and going forward the longer trend and new data added will illustrate progress.

3. What factors impact us? Answering this question requires being very familiar with what internal and external forces that are known to effect progress on the outcome indicator described in question the “how are we doing” question above. The focus here is to uncover forces that obstruct positive progress so that they can be addressed with pinpointed effort. Root causes may also be surfaced in answering this question. The focus here is action—what specifically will be done to mitigate obstacles and ensure we turn the curve?

4. Who are our partners? After addressing question 3 above, you may begin to see that other entities are current or potential partners who may play a role in your overall effort to turn the curve. For example, with a fundraising campaign it might be a professional estate planner. For a diabetes prevention effort, it might be the school lunch menu planner. Engaging these additional resources will boost your effort to turn the curve—and they often relate to root causes.

5. What proven strategy will we use? Most nonprofit agencies have adopted evidence-based strategies to address the condition they seek to improve. For this RBA framework we are focusing on those strategies that impact turning the curve on specific outcome indicators selected in 1 above. This is a question that invites us to assess our current strategies as well as to research fresh new approaches to our work. An underlying tenet of RBA is that addressing root causes nets the biggest impact over time. Here we are asking: “What strategies (programs, methods) will turn the curve the most?” Zero in and make a firm decision on what actions are included. Be careful not to drift into good things that, nonetheless, will not actually turn the curve.

6. How will we measure success? The curve graph developed in question 2 above is the central measure of success. However, in most situations it is important to develop a complementary set of measurable performance factors to help guide the improvement of ongoing work. RBA gurus have created a tool, the Performance Data Quadrant. In the quadrant we map:

  • Quantity (upper-left quarter): How much service did we deliver? This would be the number of client services delivered, number of customers served, or number of campaign solicitations.
  • Quality (upper-right quarter): How well did we do it? Traditional quality measures are placed here, using a percentage measure for analysis.  Examples include: the percent average patient satisfaction rating, the percent of donation acknowledgements sent within 24 hours, the percent of <15 minute wait times for diagnostic test clients.
  • Effect (lower half): Is anyone better off? In the lower half of the quadrant we show measurable improvements for the core factors: skills, attitudes, behaviors, circumstances.

The framework presented here is designed to be a living tool that is continuously updated and refreshed. Adjustments to methods, tools, and even goals will be fed into your RBA roadmap. RBA offers a method to dynamically engage and adjust as we strive to “turn the curve” over time.

We encourage you to expand your study of Results Based Accountability and start by applying it in a narrow area of your work—test it out. Solidify your understanding of RBA and the disciplines that it relies upon, especially data collection and analysis. The communication power gained will be well worth the effort.

If you need assistance in developing an RBA program for your organization, please call us: we are here to help.