Achieving the mission with a common outcomes measurement frameworkJulie Russell is senior vice president of planning and evaluation at the United Way of Greater St. Louis and an adjunct professor at Washington University. Over a three-year period, Julie and her team implemented a common United Way outcomes measurement framework that has since been adopted by its grantees to communicate impact. The framework provides a model for standardized reporting of outcomes achievement, which creates accountability to donors and the community, provides data for evaluation and benchmarking, and facilitates knowledge sharing.
Here, we talk with Julie about her role in the development of this "holy grail" of the quality standards process.
Describe your winning model for outcomes measurement. How did it come about?
Historically, the United Way of Greater St. Louis used a largely output-driven reporting standard. We wanted, however, a unified outcomes measurement framework that would be universally accepted and easy to implement.
Developing the new framework was a tall order. What challenges did you face?
To develop the new framework, we worked closely with grantees and local funders. We consulted policy makers and experts in performance measurement knowledge. We also needed to thoroughly understand our own strategic goals as well as the goals and operating methods of grantees — a diverse group of service providers targeting a variety of populations and geographies and offering a wide array of services.
What's the impact of the new framework?
The mission of United Way of Greater St. Louis is to mobilize the community with one goal in mind: helping people to live their best possible lives. Having a common outcomes measurement framework helps to achieve the mission.
In addition, the new framework:
- Establishes a universal language and data infrastructure
- Helps the community work toward a common agenda and goals
- Supports evaluation of the impact and return on investment of funded programs
- Provides comparative and benchmark data to inform strategic direction and future investments
- Informs capacity building and the need for technical assistance
- Makes the region more competitive for state and federal funding opportunities
Most importantly, a common framework helps to identify best practices, emerging issues among impact areas and progress toward specific indicators. This helps cultivate a culture of continuous quality improvement, which is essential to achieving outcomes.
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Julie Russell is senior vice president of planning and evaluation at the United Way of Greater St. Louis and an adjunct professor at Washington University. Julie served as an ambassador for Leap of Reason and a judge for the Missouri Quality Award, one of the leading state-level quality award programs in the United States.