Creating a new generation of data to solve social problems.

Guide CoverWorking with nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, and social strategy units of corporations, I often participate in brainstorming sessions and program design meetings.  The creative banter often flows something like this:  “What if we created a partnership?”  “What if we used mobile technology?” “Why not start with a different population?” “But, how do we get more funding?” “What if we did advocacy instead of direct programs?”  “Well, what if we…”  You get the point:  there is a constant search for strategies and ideas that will generate real impact.  While these kinds of strategy sessions are fun and exciting, they can also be risky, even futile, if not linked to goals and objectives.

Strategies are mere roadmaps for producing results.   As such, devising strategy without defining the desired result is much like asking for directions without picking a destination:  multiple enticing routes may exist, but we have no means to select the one that’s best and no way of knowing if we’re on track.

Additionally, in our work measuring the impact of social change organizations, we often see measurement fail for one simple reason:  it’s a scapegoat for misaligned strategy.  No fancy measurement system will demonstrate results if programs and activities are not designed to produce them.  My most successful clients are those that adopt this mantra: measurement drives strategy, not the other way around.  Through this frame, they use measurement to define success in precise, measurable terms in the formative phases of their work and to develop a clear and shared vision of their destination.  Their definition of success guides all strategic decision-making, helps them make smart program investments and divestments, and states from the get-go how they will measure and communicate progress. 

This guide is intended to help organizations approach strategic planning and program design with the right sequence of questions in mind.  Namely, organizations and teams should address the following questions in this order:  1) What are the specific outcomes that we aim to achieve? 2) What actions do we need to take in order to get there? and 3) How will we measure our progress?