June 15, 2010
Johns Hopkins Civil Society Center Issues Innovation & Performance Measurement Report
The Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies recently issued a report on innovation and performance measurement by nonprofits in four fields: children and family services; elderly housing and services; community and economic development; and the arts. Here are the key findings and recommendations:
I. Innovation Extensive but Facing Impediments
• The vast majority (82 percent) of all Sounding respondents reported implementing at least one innovative program or service over the past five years.
• Although innovation is widespread within the nonprofit sector, it is not as widespread as it could be. Thus:
- More than two-thirds of the organizations reported having at least one innovation in the past two years alone that they wanted to adopt but were unable to.
- The vast majority of all respondents attributed their inability to adopt a proposed innovation to lack of funding.
- Especially problematic was respondents’ inability to move promising innovations to scale due to lack
of “growth capital,” narrow governmental funding streams, and the tendency of foundations to encourage
innovations but then not sustain support for them.
II. Performance Measurement Widespread but Limited
• A striking 85 percent of all Sounding respondents reported measuring the effectiveness of at least a portion of their programs/services on at least an annual basis, and two-thirds do so for at least half of their programs or services.
• Although output measures are the most common measurement technique (used by 95 percent of groups doing any type of performance measurement), nearly 70 percent of organizations that measure program effectiveness reported using outcome measures, the measurement type increasingly promoted by experts in the field.
• Still, only minorities of respondents noted using the kinds of techniques that assessment experts insist are needed to make such measures truly convincing such as random assignment comparisons and social rate of return estimates.
• The major barriers limiting more extensive use of performance measurements are resource constraints—notably, lack of staff time and expertise and the high cost associated with good evaluation.
III. Recommendations for Moving Forward
Respondents offered a range of ideas to help overcome the remaining barriers to nonprofit innovation and adoption of performance measurement:
• The vast majority of respondents called for better tools to measure qualitative impacts, less time-consuming measurement tools, tools with clearer definitions, additional resources to support their measurement and research functions, greater help from intermediary organizations in fashioning common evaluation tools, and training for personnel in how to use them.
• Sizable proportions of respondents also urged the new White House Office of Social Innovation to reduce barriers to funding including burdensome reporting requirements on federal programs, the lack of coordination
among federal agencies and departments, the lack of long-term financial support, and the lack of funds for program evaluation.
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