Sunday, May 31, 2009

Measuring Success for Transparent Action

Linda Norris' Uncataloged Museum blog post on transparency in museums is my impetus to knit together my recent post on measuring success with defining what those measures are. Linda points to the Indianapolis Museum of Art as the site of a great dashboard of measures that welcomes public scrutiny.  

In fact, it appears that the museum's dashboard might be the only public museum dashboard -- and it's almost two-and-a-half years old!  The common denominator in all this is museum director Maxwell Anderson, who developed a lexicon of measures to assess organizational health in 2005 -- transparency has been the by-product.

This isn't to say that museums and other cultural organizations haven't been tracking data for many years. It's the focus of the data and what's done with it that is different.  Let's talk about focus first. 

The Indianapolis Museum of Art tracks activities in 13 broad areas of museum operations.  The resulting data is often quite tightly focused reflecting Anderson's view that tracking too broad or generic categories doesn't reveal enough useful information about long-term mission-relatedness or success.  So visitation, for example, is not just an aggregate number (although that exists), but it's also the number of visitors who are members, and it's an interactive map of admissions by zip code. It's not just a listing of the broad categories of the collection, it's tracking the number of artworks out on loan and the number of new works on view in the galleries.

In Dashboard for Nonprofits (Board Café, May 5, 2005), another sampling of measures was listed including:

1.  Program -- Number of first-time clients. Client satisfaction. Volunteer hours. 

2. Finance -- Days of cash on hand. Net surplus or deficit compared to budget. Days after month end for financial statement preparation. 

3. Fund development -- New individual donors. New foundations or corporations. Total non-government revenue. 

4. Human resources -- Performance evaluations completed on time. Staff meeting or exceeding goals in core job functions. 

5. Board of Directors -- Attendance at board meetings. New board members joining. Executive Director performance evaluation completed on time. 

The data are gathered into colorful charts, graphs and images for use by staff leadership and boards.  And this is known as the Dashboard. Dashboards are nothing new to the corporate world and to some corners of the nonprofit world. The basic premise is this:
Board oversight involves more than just reading financial statements, and nonprofit boards don’t always know how nor have the opportunity to provide adequate programmatic oversight. Dashboard reports communicate critical information to your board in a concise, visual, more compelling way. Dashboards help nonprofit leaders focus attention on what matters most in their organizations.
            -- The Nonprofit Dashboard: A Tool for Tracking Progress by Lawrence M Butler

Here's a great example of how dashboards help leaders focus on what matters most:  Kate Becker is vice president of Kaboom, a Washington, DC nonprofit that builds hundreds of playgrounds and recreational spaces each year.  "I don't need a dashboard to tell me that staff turnover is important to look at," Ms. Becker told the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2006. "What the dashboard does is give us a way to analyze all kinds of data at the same time, and see how workload is affecting our goals for more civic engagement."  That's the key right there.

We know that it's not enough to just collect statistics. But what we collect has to help us answer the big 'cause-effect' questions -- how is this affecting our goals for that.  Anderson has gone one important step further -- he and his team have made much of their data publicly available.  Information ready for analysis and for transparency.  What are you waiting for?

Photo:  Dashboard segment from the Indianapolis Museum of Art website,


Anonymous said...

Anne--A great post that I've emailed far and wide! I'm thrilled to have discovered your blog--wonderful resource for nonprofits...and me!

Anne W. Ackerson said...

Thanks very much! Glad you found the post useful.