Measure once, cut twice

By Sarah Keen 17 June 2010

Earlier in the week I was explaining to the newest member of the measurement team that my first project at NPC, unlike most of what I’ve done since then, recommended that charities actually collect less data.

Well, kind of. Our 2008 Turning the Tables research called for more to be done to reduce the unnecessary monitoring and reporting burden on charities. This could be accomplished, as we suggested then, by collecting less data. Or it could be accomplished by doing more with the data that is collected.

For example, a charity may collect outcomes data for its funder, but the funder is only really interested in the submission of data, not the outcomes achieved. (What a shame! The suspicion is that this monitoring report is soon relegated to one of the funder’s many filing cabinets.) The charity gets a tick next to its name because a target is met, yes, but what does it actually learn about its impact?

Not much. Yet the charity could perhaps slice and dice this very same data in different ways, giving it a new understanding of its impact. For example, as the data is outcomes-focused, the charity could use it to answer questions such as—for whom does its services work best? And if the data is quantitative, it could even consider an economic analysis. This would allow the charity to demonstrate that its services are generating valuable outcomes.

Measure once, cut twice. Not quite the carpenter’s adage, but one of the ideas to come out of our Turning the Tables research and a good one for a charity trying to do more with less.