Your community-based organization depends on service providers to achieve your mission. Yet managing a provider network effectively is challenging! It’s often hard to get past feel-good anecdotes and impressions, and make decisions based on objective results. Gerry Leslie, HMIS Project Director for Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, shared this 5-step plan to implement a data-driven approach that can improve the lives of people in your community.
1. Establish key measures
When developing goals, it’s important to distinguish between outputs and outcomes. Outputs are what you do. Outcomes are what you achieve.
Outputs are meaningless if they don’t lead to outcomes, which indicate whether you are getting the job done. While this can be a challenge for providers, define measures based on outcomes whenever possible.
It’s best to focus on standard measures that everyone in your field uses. It’s tempting to customize measures for your situation, but you’ll end up spending more time measuring activity than delivering services and you won’t be able to do any benchmarking.
In short: keep evaluation simple. This forces you to focus on the factors that contribute most directly to good outcomes.
2. Set goals
If you are new to data-based provider management, setting your first goals can be a guessing game until you have baseline data. Start by asking these questions about your historical data:
- Are we collecting the data we need?
- Do we have measurement issues leading to inaccurate data?
- What new forms or provider training must we add to get the information we need?
Don’t draw conclusions too quickly. A rule of thumb is that it takes three data points to establish a trend. If a process change doesn’t immediately reach your goal, give it time.
3. Create dashboards
Effective dashboards are critical to stakeholder engagement. For example, would you rather work from:
This: Or this:
Creating dashboards doesn’t have to be complicated. PowerPoint and Keynote include excellent tools. WellSky’s Community Services software also features Qlik Sense visualizations that will be able to help you in the future. A quick search of the internet will also point to companies that make affordable dashboard templates you can use with your presentation software. When you put dashboards in front of decision makers instead of text and tables, they see trends faster. Dashboards are also important to advocacy and can be part of your public-facing website.
4. Analyze Outcomes
Ideally, reviewing your data will make you more effective. Creating a Quality Improvement Committee comprised of internal staff and members from your provider network can help. The committee should regularly examine your outcomes data and identify potential changes that can lead to improvement.
Make sure to include people at all levels of service delivery, from leadership to front–line staff workers. Often, management may not have answers that workers on the front line will know intuitively.
At first, your committee may need to resolve outliers or inconsistencies in the data. When outcomes vary in unusual ways based on geography or demographics, those front-line workers on the committee can sometimes explain why. A common cause of data anomalies is the data collection process. Before digging into outcomes, your committee may need to focus on processes that improve data quality.
5. Develop an Accountability & Action Plan
Your committee should leave each meeting with a list of concrete actions, an owner responsible for each action, and a timeline for when the task will be completed. Start by focusing on actions that address:
- Staff training
- Resource development
Ultimately, accountability and action will only occur when you make data an organic part of your work. If you only review the data when a report is due, problems will become unmanageable. Schedule time each week to review your numbers and stay on top of the situation.
For people committed to social work, data can be daunting. But keep it simple, start slowly, and stay committed. You will soon find that working closely with data is one of the most rewarding aspects of social work — where practical decision-making leads to positive change in the people’s lives!
For more information, see the complete webcast and slides from Gerry Leslie’s webinar, “Managing Provider Quality & Outcomes with Data.”