Focusing on impact is more important than ever in today's world. For governments, service providers and community organisations, whether we are achieving our intended impact is a fundamental measure of our success. But how do we collaboratively define what that impact looks like, and how can we then measure if we are making a difference?

We spoke to experienced consultant and trainer Elaine Hendrick to learn more about Results-Based Accountability™ (RBA), a widely used approach for bringing stakeholders together to create positive, measurable changes in our communities.

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Elaine Hendrick, Elaine Hendrick Consulting

MP: What is Results-Based Accountability™?

EH: RBA is a step-by-step thinking process (as opposed to a framework) that focuses on results and/or outcomes and turns data into action. Because conversations begin with and focus on the Ends - Results and/or Outcomes, RBA provides a safe collaborative space to measurably improve community quality of life and the performance of government and non-government services.

MP: What does 'results' mean in this context?

EH: Results within the context of RBA refers to our contribution to global goals such as the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. RBA asks the question - 'What are the quality of life conditions we want for the children, adults and families who live in our community?'

By clearly articulating higher purpose in the form of quality of life statements, RBA provides an ideal starting point for like-minded stakeholders to collectively identify results and/or outcomes, indicators or measures, produce trend lines, consider best practice and develop strategies and action plans that are then implemented, monitored and continuously improved.

MP: RBA talks about not just defining results, but measuring them. Why is that important, and what methods does RBA provide for measuring change?

EH: Measures quantify the achievement of results and/or outcomes. They provide the much-needed evidence to show that programs or organisations are making a difference.

Organisations - if they are not already drowning in data - more often than not have a poor understanding of the role of data and do a poor job of setting priorities for what data is important. RBA takes away the difficulty of measuring success by simplifying it. It asks a series of questions to assist with the thinking:

  • How can we measure the identified results and/or outcomes?
    • How can we measure if our customers are better off?
    • How can we measure if we're delivering services well?
  • How are we doing on the most important measures?

Measures tell if a program, agency or service system is working well. RBA categorises measures by asking 3 simple questions:

  • How much did we do? (e.g. # clients in program)
  • How well did we do it? (e.g. % clients satisfied with program)
  • Is anyone better off? (e.g. % clients showing positive improvement)

MP: I've heard that RBA has a focus on bringing stakeholders together to create change. How does it do that?

EH: One of the most important concepts in RBA thinking is the idea of 'Turn the Curve'. Turn the Curve, a step-by-step tool for decision-making and reporting, is designed to take a program or organisation from talk to action. It is a data-driven process that is easily understood by everyone involved.

Turn the Curve, a step-by-step tool for decision-making and reporting, is designed to take a program or organisation from talk to action

The RBA process begins with the 'End' in mind. The End can be results that a program or organisation can relate to and can confidently say that they contribute to a higher purpose (e.g. All people are safe). It could also be outcomes at a performance level that the program attributes to its work (e.g. Children with disabilities are safe).

The process provides hands-on experiences with results-based decision making by allowing a group of like-minded stakeholders to work on actually turning the curve on a specific indicator of child, adult, family or community well-being (e.g. % of children with disabilities who are safe). From there, stakeholders work backward to understand what can be done to achieve these shared goals.

MP: Another framework that focuses on effective partnerships for change is Collective Impact, a term coined by Kania and Kramer.1 They also talk about the importance of shared measurement of impact. How do you see RBA and Collective Impact relating to each other?

EH: RBA instinctively uses a Collective Impact approach. It encourages and supports collaboration to achieve positive, sustainable change on complex social issues.

RBA takes a common sense approach to identifying a set of shared results and/or outcomes (the Ends) upfront. By asking the questions - 'What are the quality of life conditions we want for the children, adults and families who live in our community?' and 'What would these conditions look like if we could see or experience them?' - RBA begins conversations around developing a common agenda. This then creates an appropriate platform for healthy debates on solving specific social problems.

By developing a common language, RBA encourages stakeholders to be engaged in continuous communication. What each stakeholder does in the space of continuous improvement then contributes to the achievement of the identified shared results and/or outcomes.

Once they are down the path of acknowledging shared results and/or outcomes, stakeholders begin to realise that a concerted effort from all parties is needed to bring about the positive changes they want to see. No matter how innovative an organisation is, working alone is not going to accomplish the desired results and/or outcomes. This also now means that identifying and tracking shared measurement becomes possible. Stakeholder reluctance or disengagement in mutually reinforcing activities will be something in the past.

As with any project, collaborative action needs to be led by one organisation. Stakeholders must come to the understanding that for positive change to happen each player needs to contribute to the conversation as well as take the necessary action to bring about the change.

RBA's Turn the Curve concept embodies the principles of collaborative leadership, the ability to keep stakeholders focused on shared results and/or outcomes and to create a safe platform to bring about a positive change to the identified social problem.

RBA provides an easily understood and simple way for both external stakeholders and staff at every level in an organisation to keep their focus on the intended results and/or outcomes

MP: What do you think are the greatest benefits of RBA?

EH: The RBA thinking process developed by Mark Friedman2 has very wide applicability. It has been used in various sectors - from the 'performance of schools, to the safety of communities, to the health of the natural environment, to matters of national security'.3

RBA provides an easily understood and simple way for both external stakeholders and staff at every level in an organisation to keep their focus on the intended results and/or outcomes. The RBA process allows staff and services to gain an idea of where they have come from and where they are at so that they can make evidence-informed decisions about client outcomes and how to improve them. RBA also encourages a culture of reflection and continuous improvement which drives results.

RBA strengthens community organisations by:

  • Creating measurable improvements for people and communities
  • Assisting them to gather robust evidence
  • Enabling them to highlight their achievements and results.

RBA is a robust way of moving from anecdotal evidence to real hard evidence of qualitative outcomes. Having the capability to reflect on and improve the work internally and then be able to justify the service provision to external stakeholders, including funders, is what makes organisations that have invested the time, resources and effort into fully embedding RBA concepts stand out from the crowd.

MP: Could you give us some examples of how you have used Results-Based Accountability™ in your work?

EH: I helped one local council to develop and implement an outcomes measurement framework as well as monitoring and evaluation framework for a new community-orientated strategy, in preparation for the community consultation and drafting process. Wisely, the council wanted to test the assumptions underpinning the strategy's intended people and community outcomes, and how progress towards achieving those results would be assessed, at the start of the project.

Between 2011 and 2017, I partnered with Melbourne City Council's Community Development Division to embed outcomes-focused thinking processes and systems across the division. The collaboration spanned various management levels and teams within the division and the wider council (policy, program, service, team and branch levels). The work involved a range of policy and strategy areas, including the council's Food Policy (Health Services Team), Beyond the Safe City Strategy (City Issues Team), and Melbourne for All People Plan (cross-organisational project). This has enabled the Council to undertake effective monitoring and evaluation in these areas.

MP: Organisations often worry about being held accountable for outcomes that are outside their control. Is this a concern you sometimes hear about RBA? How would you respond?

EH: When working in the space of results and/or outcomes, having clarity of accountability is key to having the appropriate data sets to paint the picture of success. Being accountable means that the program or organisation is prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve the identified results and/or outcomes.

Organisations find that making a fundamental distinction between the two levels of accountability (population and performance) paves the way for meaningful and robust conversation, both internally and externally.

At the level of performance accountability RBA asks the question - 'What would these conditions look like if we could see or experience them?' This opens up the space for conversations about people and community outcomes at program/project/service, organisation and service system levels (children are safe; people are connected to their local communities; homeless people are in affordable housing; people with intellectual disabilities are in employment).

Clarity at the performance level allows the development of causal links to the higher purpose population level results or quality of life statements - such as those identified in the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. These goals aim to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all - in measurable terms these are 'to improve the quality of lives and wellbeing of all people and communities'.

Like any new initiative, RBA requires a high level of commitment, not only from program staff but from the executive team as well

MP: What type of investment is required from an organisation or a community partnership to get up and running with RBA?

EH: Although RBA implementation is simple to understand, it is often aided by an RBA support program. This involves training in the core concepts, assistance to develop the best outcomes measures and data collection and analysis and reporting tools, and troubleshooting of issues. An RBA champion within the organisation or community partnership is also useful, to ensure RBA implementation momentum and to respond to implementation questions to help address any resistance.

Like any new initiative, RBA requires a high level of commitment, not only from program staff but from the executive team as well, to appropriately embed its concepts within an organisation or a community partnership. Successful RBA implementation requires resourcing and careful planning. Organisations willing to put in the effort to set it up right from the start will certainly reap immeasurable benefits in the long run.

MP: Is RBA something that can happen quickly or does it take time and careful planning?

EH: It is often recommended that organisations start small and learn from their RBA implementation experience to develop best practice internally. For this reason, implementation takes time.

RBA implementation is best undertaken using an experiential learning approach. When staff are given the opportunity to learn from 'doing' RBA, their reflections on what they have done will take their RBA thinking to the next level. Staff who are fully engaged in RBA implementation will come to fully understand the thinking process.

As staff build their capacity to understand the workings of RBA and see the benefits of embedding it, RBA will become part of the organisation's DNA. It is this DNA that will put the organisation and its work in a unique position and will help it to stand out from the crowd when vying for the limited pool of funding available.

When RBA thinking is embedded in a new program, this thinking will be formed at the program's conception and will continue to guide the program throughout its implementation phase. Having RBA concepts wrapped around a program from the start will mean that it is embedded in the program's day-to-day operations. This then makes for stronger and more robust reporting. Retrofitting RBA thinking into an existing program or service can certainly be done but requires more effort.

Building any robust outcomes measurement framework takes time and implementing it in a focused, planned and systematic way will reap the best results

MP: What are some of the pitfalls that people encounter with RBA? What advice would you give about how to avoid these?

EH: Impatience is one of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to RBA implementation. Building any robust outcomes measurement framework takes time and implementing it in a focused, planned and systematic way will reap the best results.

Whilst comparatively simple to understand, RBA does involve some level of technical competency - especially around outcomes measurement. Staff will be required to determine the level of accountability as well as finding or creating appropriate data collection tools. Some level of training in data collection and data entry into systems to store the data will be required. Data analysis and report preparation may also require some level of competency. Training is key to successful RBA implementation.

Only taking a bottom up approach is just not enough to ensure implementation success. Senior management's involvement from the start of RBA implementation is essential. Ensuring a top-down approach as well as a bottom-up approach will provide the RBA project the momentum as well as the direction it requires.

Not providing a budget line for the embedding of RBA will have considerable impact on the systematic roll out of RBA. Budget allocation for RBA capability building and support should be considered.

Implementing RBA on an ad hoc basis or sporadically within an organisation will not produce good results. Organisations need to plan for RBA implementation, and its success is dependent on an integrated approach. Building a robust outcomes measurement framework also requires a dedicated data collection, analysis and reporting system. Good RBA implementation results come when an organisation develops and supports a culture of continuous quality improvement and makes it a part of its DNA.

MP: What would be the first steps for an organisation looking to implement RBA?

EH: My advice would be to take stock. I would encourage the organisation to either conduct a self-assessment of its existing outcomes measurement framework or engage an outcomes measurement specialist to conduct an outcomes measurement health check. Focus the assessment on the type of results or outcomes the organisation currently has:

  • How is the organisation doing on its current journey and is the organisation working toward contributing to results and/or achieving outcomes?
  • Is the focus on process measures or does the organisation have a set of robust people and/or community outcomes?

The next step would be to have a look at the data sets that are currently being collected and collated, and the way these are used to support improvement:

  • Is the organisation focusing solely on outputs?
  • Are there qualitative data sets in the mix?
  • Is continuous improvement a part of the organisation's DNA? What protocols are in place to support a culture of reflection, and to develop and implement quality improvement initiatives?

MP: And where can people go to learn more about RBA?

EH: Mark Friedman, the creator of RBA, put his ideas into a book called 'Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough: How to produce measurable improvements for customers and communities'. This is a great place to start. There are also a range of resources available online.

Through my consulting business Elaine Hendrick Consulting, I also specialise in RBA training and implementation. I am in the process of developing a modular on-line RBA training course, 'RBA Fundamentals: An Intro to Outcomes Measurement Concepts' which will introduce key RBA concepts in bite-sized modules. If you are interested in the course, or in talking further about how RBA could work in your organisation, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Notes

1. Kania, J, and M. Kramer. 2011. "Collective Impact." Stanford Social Innovation Review Winter 2011: 36-41.

2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/fpsimarkfriedman/

3. Extract from the 3rd OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy - Charting Progress, Building Visions, Improving Life. Busan, Korea, Oct 2009.

 

Assistance with RBA and outcome measurement

Elaine Hendrick Consulting specialises in RBA training and implementation.

For further information, please contact Elaine:

Phone: 0422 500 151
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lirata Ltd also assists organisations with monitoring, evaluation and outcome measurement.

For further information or assistance, please contact the Lirata team:

Phone: +61 (0)3 9457 2547
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

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Turning the curve with Results-Based Accountability™: An interview with Elaine Hendrick (PDF 385 KB)

External resources

The following resources provide useful starting points for exploring RBA: