In a blog post last month, we offered five tips for reducing the oversight burden on federal grant programs. The first tip involved developing quantitative, outcome-focused metrics and performance goals for measuring progress on a grant program. We posited that implementing quantifiable metrics and communicating clearly what they mean will reduce the administrative burden on both you the grantor and your grant recipients. Perhaps a more significant outcome of implementing quantifiable metrics is your ability to show tangible successes to others in your organization, particularly high-level decision-makers. In other words, tracking quantifiable metrics allow you to communicate your value.
Of course, the first step in effectively measuring progress to communicate your program’s value is to develop milestones against which recipients can set baselines and measure progress. You can start by looking at your grant program’s priorities, often located in the funding opportunity notification, and develop quantifiable metrics to match those priorities. In our last post, we used the example of “stakeholders engaged” as a quantifiable metric, while “stakeholder engagement” is a qualitative metric that is not easily measured.
Similarly, a common metric in public safety grant programs measures outreach. But, how would you define “outreach?” One could easily define outreach as the number of pages of outreach materials printed, the number of outreach documents produced, the number of outreach events held, or the number of individuals reached at outreach events. Some recipients could also include the number of outreach members on a recipients’ staff, the number of internal meetings related to outreach, or hits on particular pages of a website. In the absence of a clearly defined metric such as “outreach materials developed” or “outreach events held,” recipients may not accurately report progress.
While you may think it will be obvious when recipients are misreporting information, this may not always be the case if you employ unclear metrics. If your recipient is a large organization or state with numerous offices, districts, or regions, it’s very possible that the recipient could report a very high number of outreach meetings OR outreach materials. In this case, you won’t know for sure whether your numbers are accurate unless you go back and forth with the recipient, adding to the administrative burden of both parties. The alternative – going months or years before realizing the inaccuracies in your recipients’ reporting – can be similarly damaging to your program’s ability to show progress.
However, when you are intentional and clear about your milestones, you will be better equipped to report your program’s accomplishments and successes “up the chain.” More importantly, you’ll be able to show your organization’s high-level decision-makers more than just a spreadsheet filled with numbers that may or may not be accurate; you’ll have ample data to tell a more compelling story.