Lately, I get this question a lot: “How can workforce organizations make better use of data to improve their performance?” This may be the single most important question that workforce leaders must answer in order to stay ahead and stay relevant in the age of shrinking budgets. There has been a growing emphasis on data in workforce development programs and across the public workforce system, due in no small part to the last 20 or 30 years of federal legislation, and more recently, from local emphasis. This seemingly irrevocable shift means a growing focus on accountability, transparency, and on measuring the impact of dollars spent in order to calculate the ROI from workforce development interventions. At next month’s National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) Forum, representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor will conduct a session on “Putting Evidence to Work in Workforce Development”. But how can WIBs best respond to this challenge to capture outcomes data and use it to inform program performance in real-time?
From Outputs to Outcomes
It is easy to mislabel the shift toward accountability, transparency and efficiency of operations as an emphasis on reporting alone. Common measures are not enough to demonstrate true impact of our efforts. While reporting remains as important as ever before, we must recognize that success will not come exclusively from reporting or compliance; success hinges upon the ability to manage toward effectiveness and excellence in your programming, and having the information necessary to do so. This is the main difference between data management systems that help you manage performance and the mandated systems that ask you to report on performance.
Effective performance management in the workforce sector can be realized by answering a few key questions:
- How well are we serving our program participants? (NOT how many or how frequently)
- Are we creating value for our employers? How do we measure that?
- How can we alter service delivery or re-allocate resources to better meet the needs of our program participants and workforce partners? (For instance—are participants “falling off” in the service delivery cycle? Why? How can we redesign service delivery to keep participants engaged and successful?)
- How are our service providers performing? How can we better play to their strengths? Are we learning from our data and using the knowledge to continuously improve and realize efficiencies in our delivery model?
- How can we generate cost-savings by eliminating duplication of services and time that is wasted on reporting and compliance?
Approaches to service delivery are changing, and reporting has to evolve with these changes; it must inform continuous quality improvement in real-time. From a process standpoint, each funder has their own requirements for how they want performance data to be communicated. Because of this, WIBs and other providers are often stuck feeding data into disparate reporting systems and managing the reporting for dozens of sub-grantees, taking valuable time away from service delivery. We need all our data in one place so that we can easily report on our outcomes.
There needs to be a way to enable reporting to be a byproduct of service delivery itself. Efforts to Outcomes (ETO™) software from Social Solutions ”sits at the bottom of” state-mandated systems, bringing outcomes-oriented case management data collection and analysis to complement the long-standing systems required for traditional reporting. ETO software allows WIBs to manage performance for programs across providers and funding streams, as a single platform. For the past several years, Social Solutions has worked with the Milwaukee Area WIB to implement ETO software and has achieved impressive results:
|Before Efforts to Outcome (ETO) software
|With Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) software
Condition: Computerized voucher payment system tied to ETO. The system:
|Impact: Inability to easily make management decisions related to:
||Impact: Better program management resulting in:
“Without a common platform like ETO software, there’s no insight into the overall effectiveness of programming, no ability to assess community-level impact and no way of knowing where to direct restricted or additional funding to ensure maximum value,” said Bruce Wantuch, MAWIB Data Manager. “This is something that, in a sense, the community adopts. This is something that lots of organizations can participate in and really get a sense of what’s happening almost in total in their community,” (Listen to the full Workforce Central interview with Ron Painter, Bruce Wantuch and myself here)
Is your WIB interested in gaining expertise in community and multi-agency collaboration, data-driven decision-making and ROI-based advocacy? At the NAWB Forum in March, I will join Don Sykes, CEO of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Board, for “Funding What Works: A Performance Driven and Evidence-Based Approach to Workforce Development,” a discussion of the explicit link between new funder expectations and the tracking of efforts and outcomes. Social Solutions, the Milwaukee Area WIB, and Henkels & McCoy will share how such a system can be achieved with real-time outcomes reporting, as well as how WIBs are using such a system to demonstrate significantly better outcomes and become more competitive in securing new funding.
At the Forum, visit us in the exhibitor hall at booths 314 and 316—I’d be especially interested in speaking with you about the specific work you are doing to measure and improve performance in workforce programs across your community!
Bojan Cubela is the Director of Workforce Strategy for Social Solutions, Inc.