Measuring the quality of outcomes is one of the biggest challenges in the social services sector today. This is a byproduct of a system that has become bloated. Eight hundred billion dollars are given away annually in the form of government contracts, grants, subsidies, and services to help people. Programs are renewed year-to-year out of habit, often based on nothing other than previous years’ funding. Over the past 15 years we, as a country, have demanded that this money be spent more effectively, on programs that work: in part to save money, but ultimately to make a real difference in people’s lives. What good does it do to pour all of this time, funding, and effort into the communities of those who need it the most, if life doesn’t actually get any better?
The solution has been to invest in programming that has measurable outcomes. How many people did this program help? How many dollars did it take to achieve this? Can we put the same investment into it next year and get an even greater outcome. Simply providing the service – the output – is no longer enough.
Ultimately, these systems of assessment are good. They establish high standards for accountability. Non-profits must meet these standards swiftly, effectively, and within their intended scale. It’s also good for foundations giving through grants, contracts, or other methods. However, producing positive outcomes is just as important as quantifying them.
Our services are broad.
Participants at The National Science Institute may work with us on different individual timelines. Some spend years achieving a specific goal set with us from the start. Others participate for a few months, a semester, a couple of weeks, a couple of days, a few hours — or even less. Some of our biggest program successes involved minimal time commitment with the client, but were impactful in other ways: they received a computer for their home, which took hours to refurbish, install with relevant programs, and produce educational materials for the client to use once they got home. Now they can do their online homework and keep up with their classroom.
Success for a participant in our programming is often specific to the person who achieved it. We believe in small-scale, individual success, as defined by the participant. A productive endeavour may be learning a single new skill. Today, Jason learned how to operate a table saw. That is all he required from us. Now, he is able to apply for a new job at a local cabinet-making shop, and is ahead of his peers also seeking the position. He has a job, and has been able to enter an industry he finds both emotionally and financially fulfilling, simply because we showed him how to properly use one single tool in a few hours.
Other participants require more focus, and much more direct involvement. Recently, Rebecca came into our facility seeking a job in her field. She discovered that, while she had completed her vocational training and several years of contract work as an engineer without issue, it was not as enticing to potential employers as expected – primarily because the geographical region she was seeking employment in largely sought prior work experience in specific skillsets, including robotics, that she had not had access to in prior employment and school. She began participating at our facility, almost daily, to learn about modern techniques in robotics. She worked at a pace that made sense to her, effectively digesting the information to program the robots. Within 3 months, a high-profile employer local to her area offered her a sustainable job doing work that she loves, citing her self-driven work in robotics as a significant positive factor in the hiring decision.
Is Rebecca a less successful participant than Jason? They both achieved the same output–employment–but one took significantly more effort from us than the other. Does that mean the outcomes are the same?
We believe that we must measure problems on an individual level. The size of the hurdles that Jason and Rebecca encountered were very different. We operate under the law of large numbers; the cases will all average out. By creating flexible systems that function to their highest capacities regardless of an individual’s specific goals, we are able to serve a broader spectrum of people.