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Building Sustainable Alliances Part 3: Outcomes

Overview

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Review the process before getting started.

The alliance planning process began with the assets and needs inventory. After that, the vision and goals plan was created, followed by the action and outreach plans. Outcome measures and sustainability planning are part of phase three of the planning process.

This image shows four categories, each leading to the next. The first is Asset and Needs Inventory. This leads to Phase 1: Vision and Goals, which leads to Phase 2: Action and Outreach Plan, which leads to Phase 3: Outcomes and Sustainability.

Learn to define the important elements of the planning process.

There are six basic terms that are key to understanding the planning process:

  • Goal: a blueprint for action which defines what the end state looks like in a specific, measureable way
  • Measure or Indicator: the specific, measurable information that will be collected to track success of an outcome
  • Outcome: the changes in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, or the community as a result of a program; the benefit for participants during or after their involvement in a program; or, the impact of a program on the people it serves
  • Output: the product delivered or the unit of service provided by a program, usually described numerically, such as the number of people served or number of hours of service delivered
  • Sustainability: long-term and effective responses to the needs of Military populations
  • Target: the specific level of achievement for an indicator or outcome

Learn strategies for outcome measurement and sustainability planning.

By the end of this lesson you will be able to:

  • Recall the importance of measuring and reporting success;
  • Recall the importance of sustainability; and,
  • Apply strategies to implement these steps of the planning process.End of text

Steps for Measuring Success

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Understand the steps to outcome measurement.

Step one of the outcome measurement process is to identify outcomes and develop performance indicators. This phase has two objectives: to establish a shared understanding of what the alliance is and how it works, and to create a set of measures that can be used to assess progress and accomplishments. This step was completed when the alliances created their visions and goals.

Step two of the outcome measurement process is to create and implement a data collection plan. There are a variety of data collection methods, including surveys, interviews, observation, and record or document review. To choose which method/s to use, consider what type of information you need, the validity and reliability of the method, what resources you have available, and the cultural appropriateness of the method to ensure that it fits with the language, norms, and values of the people from whom you will be collecting the data.

Step three of the outcome measurement process is analyzing the data. This requires taking a closer look at the data you have acquired and asking, “What does this mean?” There are many ways of looking at the data, including counting, sorting, and ordering the data, or performing a statistical analysis. Whichever tools you use, remember to ask yourself, “What purpose will this serve?”

Outcome measurement has limitations.

Your plan for outcome measurement may not perfectly capture the successes your alliance will have. It is important to understand the limitations and how to mitigate them.

  • Soft outcomes are outcomes which may be difficult to measure. For example, relationships between people or organizations within communities are important to understand and recognize, but may be hard to measure. These successes can be captured as stories and shared with data to provide the human face on the outcomes.
  • Managerial judgment and decision-making are crucial aspects to understanding the data. Data alone is simply data; it is through interpretation and analysis that it becomes meaningful. Understanding the implications, as well as knowing when and how to share it will require managers to apply their critical thinking skills to the data.
  • Outcome measures are not something that will appear instantaneously in survey results, or in whichever method of data procurement you choose. In some cases, outcomes may take years to see and even longer to understand. Keep in mind what your programs influence—you may have to wait to see the results of your work. In the meantime, try to select some measures that you can collect and report on in the short-term to demonstrate progress towards your long-term achievements.End of text

Working with Results

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Analyze the data.

The analysis of data should be conducted with discipline and consistency in order to help organize the data into meaningful presentations. Typically, nonprofits will want the data for two reasons: to describe their current situation and to make inferences about potential changes or benefits. Alliances are no different. The relationships between outputs and outcomes, communicated in quantifiable terms, are useful for descriptions of the current situation. Being able to make inferences about a larger population or future performance will allow the decision-makers in the alliance to make better-informed decisions.

Interpret the data.

You have the data. So what? As a first step to understanding and constructing a complete presentation of the data, try comparing your data to other data sets. This step will get you half way to understanding what your data actually means. Potential sources for comparison might include:

  • A control group: this is a group not impacted by your program activities. If you send half of your staff to training, the other half of your staff could serve as a control group, since they did not receive the same training.
  • Population performance: this recognizes that the small group impacted by the program is part of a much larger group. If a program targeted at small group, that group’s data can be compared to the data of the larger group.
  • A historical baseline: this will allow you to compare your outcomes to the standards in place before your program implementation. The next step is to determine whether the results of your comparison are good, bad, expected, or surprising. Then you can determine what next steps need to be taken, based on the data and its revelations.

Sustainability Planning

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Understand the importance of sustainability.

Sustainability assures the ongoing survival of the alliance and its work to support Service members, Veterans, and their Families. It takes into account the impact of alliance activities on State, regional, and local program and service delivery systems. In addition, the sustainability plan seeks to integrate the alliance’s efforts into long-term and effective state level responses to the needs of Military populations.

Sustainability planning requires looking into the future. How will you plan for the long-term sustainability of providing support for Service members and their Families? In fact, why is long-term sustainability even important? As long as the Military exists there will be Service members who deserve aid and assistance to work through difficult times. Families experience the loss of their Service members—from death, by behavioral health illnesses, and sometimes simply through absence. Reintegration of Service members into civilian life takes time, sometimes even years. Program sustainability is crucial to supporting our Service members in the areas of behavioral health, finance, and law, regardless of their injuries, struggles, or needs.

Plan for sustainability.

The process of planning for sustainability involves discussing key questions in three areas: Direction, Structure, and Inputs. There are a number of questions to help guide conversations about these areas.

This image depicts three colored arrows. The first is titled Direction. It points to an arrow titled Structure. It points to an arrow titled Inputs.

First, take a look at Direction. What direction is your alliance going? Is your vision realistic? Are your goals realistic? What are the state systems with which the alliance’s work should be integrated? How will information be shared with those systems? How do you know that the alliance’s work is no longer necessary?

Secondly, consider the structure of your alliance. Does the structure support your direction? What leadership structure do you need to successfully sustain your efforts? Have you considered what you need to do in order to operate smoothly and consistently?

Finally, think about your inputs. Have you discussed the key issues, concerns, and influences affecting your ability to remain strategically, operationally, and financially viable into the future? What do you need to consider that you have not? What will it cost, in terms of time and money, for alliance members to participate? How will these costs be paid for (out of a general operating budget from grants, donations, or other)?

Download the resources for a template to help guide your discussions about planning sustainability.

Communicate the results.

What you do with your results is equally important to having them. Who needs to know? Who is responsible for sharing the information? How will the details be presented? The answers to these questions may lead you to amend your outreach plan.End of text

Summary

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Building sustainable alliances requires forethought and innovation.

Now that you have completed this lesson you will be able to:

  • Recall the importance of measuring and reporting success;
  • Recall the importance of sustainability; and,
  • Apply strategies to implement these steps of the planning process.End of text

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