How Do We Measure Our Impact?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Simon Jaffe

This past week, Fortune initiated a new “outcomes measurement tool.”

The Fortune Society has been successful for many years at keeping individuals from being re-incarcerated. Indeed, the Agency thought of the impact of its programs and initiatives in terms of its success in reducing recidivism. Therefore, programs were created over the years with the primary goal of reducing or eliminating the factors in the life of a formerly incarcerated individual that made it less likely that the individual would engage in negative behavior and/or return to prison.

More recently, Fortune has begun to view its intended impact in a larger framework — one that moves beyond reducing recidivism as a sole measurement of success and, instead, toward looking at the overall impact of individuals within their communities based on their positive contributions and connections. This change of perspective requires analyzing incremental process over a longer period of time and requires a different measurement for verifying the positive impact of individuals that goes beyond the historical “hard” objective measures of success, such as educational attainment/enhancement, employment, and safe and secure housing.

It is not that this “hard” evidence is unimportant — indeed it is critical.  However, Fortune and others believe there are programs and initiatives that can also provoke deeper change for individuals — incremental change that can enhance the lives of those individuals and, at the same time, improve their families, the institutions with which they interact, and the communities in which they live — by engaging a continued connection to the individuals Fortune serves. This continued connection can provoke transformation, which Fortune refers to as “deep change.”

Our new perspective on how we can illicit deep change is that we must remove barriers to allow for that transformation. We believe that the formerly incarcerated need to first build/rebuild hope, optimism, and self-esteem in order to take advantage of the educational, employment, housing, and mental health opportunities we provide. Because these benchmarks are not typically objectively verifiable, a new vision enabling us to measure personal internal progress toward self-reliance has to be developed.

These new benchmarks could be identified as soft measures but are, in fact, intermediate outcomes because they represent a “status” or “condition” of the individual that can be verified by tangible evidence. Because some of these intermediate outcomes can be reflective of character traits or habits, Fortune has previously not been able to verify those outcomes sufficiently to build them into the outcome framework to be used to measure success. But these soft incremental changes are critical building blocks which not only enable formally incarcerated individuals to build life and coping skills (which obviously can reduce recidivism), but also, even if they return to prison, can have a deep and meaningful effect on their lives, their families, and their community.

The task for us was to codify a framework for measuring this kind of impact and the programmatic changes and adjustments that will increase the number of individuals who are positively affected by Fortune’s programs and services. Therefore, we are focusing on creating a new outcomes framework to measure the incremental and longer-term efforts by Fortune programs by counting the numbers of individuals who fit the description “deeply changed.”

The definition of a successful individual served by Fortune might be something like this:

A formerly incarcerated individual who is healthier, independent, stable, and an asset to other people and the community in which they live.

So, instead of only measuring success based upon individuals who never are re-incarcerated, Fortune would measure success based upon the longer-term view of individuals who have successfully achieved life skills which have impacted their lives and others’ lives.

We are only the second organization in all of North America to use this system …

Over this past year, we have conducted extensive research and have located a consulting group in the United Kingdom that has done a considerable amount of thinking about measuring incremental internal change and connected this practice to measureable outcomes. At the core of their approach is the belief that fundamental shifts in internal motivation are the primary determining factor in achieving personal change. Once the attitudes and beliefs change, it becomes possible for the circumstances of a person’s life to change. The philosophy of this approach acknowledges the significance of personal motivation for a client in achieving sustainable change in achieving self-reliance and choice.

Last week, we introduced the Outcomes Star system of outcomes measurement in four of our program units with the hope of validating its effectiveness within the next three to six months. We are only the second organization in all of North America to use this system and we hope not only to utilize it throughout the agency, but over time to develop a unique Outcomes Star specific to the work in which Fortune is involved. We also plan to pioneer collaboration with other similar organizations throughout the world in developing and implementing this new measurement tool.

I will keep you informed on our assessment of its usefulness as we move forward with this very exciting new outcomes measurement tool.

Categories: News

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