This commentary appeared on Independent Sector on March 21, 2012.
One of my interests is building evaluation capacity within nonprofit community service organizations to increase impact. The model RAND uses for this work is called Getting To Outcomes (GTO), a free program management tool with demonstrated success in improving program performance.
Getting To Outcomes emphasizes Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), which we define as a planned, structured process with the goal of improving outcomes. We have adapted the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle approach for use in community service settings, where data and resources to conduct analyses are often limited as compared with settings where PDSA was first developed (e.g., manufacturing) and currently used (e.g., hospitals). Plan-Do-Study-Act allows organizations to pilot small changes and see if these changes enhance service delivery and outcomes. Inherent in this approach is the use of data to analyze a program or process and understand the impact of applying the PDSA cycle. Critical to PDSA are support from leadership and the inclusion of multiple levels of the organization (i.e., a team-based strategy) to plan, design, implement, and study impact. For example, we've found that it is critical for leaders to support a dialogue among program staff about the potential strengths and weaknesses of a particular program and to support and provide resources to staff to make changes. Another important component of CQI is that it is ongoing. That means that it is not a one-time event, but should be incorporated into regular staff meetings for progress monitoring and mid-course adjustments, as well as for celebrating successes and problem solving setbacks.