Sunday, May 5, 2013

The $100,000 Question

Third in a series of posts about the April UUA Board Meeting

The virtual UU skies have lately been focused on a decision coming out of Sunday's UUA board meeting:  hiring a consultant to help us (staff and board) create a system to measure whether or not the roughly $20 million we spend each year is working.  By "working", I mean whether or not what we do moves us towards the results we have said we want.

Described by one blogger as "marriage counseling", the solution is born out of the frustration of both Board and Staff around our current inability to provide tangible measurements for the effectiveness of the budgeted dollars.  The board insists that such measurement is doable, and cites examples from other industries; the Administration has made multiple attempts, none of which have satisfied the Board's need for accountability.  This is not about "marriage counseling" or "a consultant to work out their relationship"; it is about a nuanced and complex set of skills needed to "measure the unmeasurable".

An old adage says "you measure what you think is important".  This applies to the non-profit world as well.  Rather than financial return, the investor is putting in money to help achieve the organization's mission.  The founder of Developing Indigenous Resources, for example,  is a former public health doctor (and member of my congregation) who is fanatical about measuring outcomes.  Do I invest so that his home health workers average 4.2 home visits/month, or rather that infant mortality in a slum of 16,000 people dropped to one fifth of its previous rate in six short years?

How willing are you to continue to invest in an organization whose mission has lofty goals, but can't tell you if we are making progress towards them?

I do not think this is easy, nor do I think it is impossible.  The Board has identified $100,000 (one half of one percent of the annual budget) to hire a consultant to help create these measurements. I understand why this amount is disconcerting, especially in light of recent UUA layoffs, but given what is at stake, worth doing.

I believe we have a highly dedicated and competent staff who are doing good work -- what I don't know if whether or not this work is moving the needle.

1 comment:

Tim Bartik said...

Whether you can achieve what you want in terms of metrics depends upon what the Board wants in terms of metrics.

If what you want are measures of the CAUSAL impact of UUA activities on all the ends of the UUA, then you will never come close to having rigorous evidence of those causal effects. Where's the control group?

If you want some useful indicators of UU progress towards SOME Of the goals of the UUA, with perhaps some suggestive evidence that the progress might have had SOME relationship to what the UUA is doing, then you might make some progress there.

Everything has a cost. There are diminishing returns to everything. It is probably worthwhile to try to get some indicators of progress in that the benefits of doing so exceed the costs of doing so. It is probably not worthwhile to seek to have comprehensive measures of impacts on all goals, in that the costs of doing so would exceed the benefits.

I would say that the UUA Board, even with this recent letter, have been very unclear with respect to the UUA as to exactly what they want in terms of metrics. Just saying you want metrics doesn't tell me much. Maybe you've been clear with the Administration -- I'm in no position to judge that. But I have found no available document online that gives me the faintest idea as to what this dispute is really about.