Winning the small not-for-profit category of the Impact Measurement Awards, Linkwest, the peak body for Western Australia Community, Neighbourhood and Learning Centres (WA CNLC), has used the Performance Accountability component of the Results Based Accountability (RBA) framework to improve programs in the areas of sector development, community development, social inclusion, education and adult learning. This is the first time there has been a collective, methodological, outcomes based approach to exploring, reviewing, monitoring and documenting the service performance of Community, Neighbourhood and Learning Centres in Western Australia.
The measurement culture within Linkwest and its member organizations could previously be described as focusing on outputs as opposed to outcomes. Historically, data has been collated for the purpose of satisfying contractual requirements, and used infrequently for the purpose of service improvement. Observing the need for a methodological approach to planning, evaluating and documenting their performance against preferred customer outcomes, Linkwest secured $80,000 from the WA state government to test the suitability of the RBA framework.
The culture at Linkwest now is that every program activity is considered against the preferred core customer outcomes identified early on in the RBA process. An internal “lessons log” has been created, and is regularly updated and reviewed by two Linkwest RBA experts to ensure that the measurement culture continues to reflect good practice. In addition, Linkwest continues to learn from the experiences of others more advanced in impact assessment and applies this knowledge to their existing practices.
A core finding of the pilot project was a discrepancy between the data thought to exist and that actually available for analyses. Consequently, every organization involved with the pilot project has implemented changes to their data collection processes. The RBA process revealed the inadequacies of Linkwest’s current data collection processes in terms of excluding some of the activities that should have been captured by the program area under review. The overarching program definition was redefined to ensure that all applicable data would be captured for future analyses.
Inconsistent data entry and ineffective data management practices also were raised as potential issues. As a result, an in-house Management Information System database was created, which subsequently helped with data entry. The amalgamation of all previously analyzed data into one system has helped to ease reporting requirements. A number of pilot participants also made significant changes to their customer satisfaction questionnaires to ensure sufficient evidence regarding the impact of their service is collected.
Workplace practices have been adapted to ensure that data is collated, evaluated and reported in the earliest instance. This revised reporting process also used by other pilot participants has helped to develop a measurement culture, due to an ability to quickly attain a visual representation of current practices against customer outcome achievement.
Members have benefited directly from the clarity provided by RBA as they are able to more clearly articulate Linkwest’s service structure and programs. The most important improvement concerns the understanding Linkwest now has of whether service provision is having an impact on the lives of those they intend to support: WA CNLC.