I ran into the following clip from I Love Lucy a few days ago and couldn’t help to think about outcomes.
Take a look at the clip through the 2:45 mark. Let’s break the scene down:
1) The manager threatens Lucy and Ethel: If they don’t wrap each piece of chocolate on time, they’ll be fired.
2) The manager leaves as Lucy and Ethel do their work.
3) Lucy and Ethel quickly become overwhelmed, eventually stuffing the chocolates they can’t wrap into their mouths, their shirts, and their hats.
4) When the conveyor belt stops, the manager comes out, sees that there aren’t any chocolates, and then assumes that Lucy and Ethel are doing a terrific job.
Does this remind you at all of how some nonprofits measure outcomes? If the conveyor belt is clean, we must be doing a great job. If the kids are reading, we did it. If the community is seeing less crime, we played a role. If fewer people are on the streets, we must have played a role.
At America Learns, the organizations that partner with us want to know the nitty-gritty behind the clean conveyor belt. They want to know WHY the conveyor belt is clean, and they want to use that information to constantly improve operations.
We’re obsessed with helping organizations figure out how well they’re doing while giving them more power to elevate their work’s impact. That’s exactly how organizations like Up2Us and FoodCorps think about and use data. Their communities and funders love them not because their respective issues are hot (there are tons of organizations in those spaces trying to find funding), but because they act in a completely opposite way from Lucy and Ethel’s manager.