Seven Steps to Improve Outcomes by Mark Forshaw
By Mark Forshaw ~
Today we are going to learn from a case study and review the seven steps to improve outcomes in your ministry.
To better monitor and create clearer metrics for its mission, American Bible Society, in 2006, launched a pioneering research group called Global Scripture Impact. This team of international and domestic researchers — all with ministry experience — evaluate and report on American Bible Society partnership projects around the world. Knowing which initiatives are the most effective — and how to improve less-effective work — helps American Bible Society determine where to partner for greatest impact.
Global Scripture Impact’s system of evaluation comes from leadership’s working knowledge, as well as other leaders in the field — including Dr. James Engel of Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. Dr. Engels developed the Engel Scale, which charts the journey of someone with no knowledge of God as he progresses into a spiritually mature Christian believer.
Global Scripture Impact’s system most closely resembles an action research model. It is participative, qualitative and quantitative. Simply put, it seeks to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time. This system is not proprietary.
Used by any ministry, it can uncover great ministry opportunities and improve projects by:
• ?Providing accountability and transparency to ministry and financial investors, including project beneficiaries
• Strengthening and clarifying your strategy
• Building the capacity of the implementer
• Increasing donor confidence in your organization
Here it the seven step process that will improve your ministry’s outcomes:
Review Best Practices
Start by making sure your project is based on a foundation of best practices. No matter what you’re planning, someone has likely explored what works and doesn’t work in that area. Search for best practices within your own networks, such as Christian Leadership Alliance, ACCORD and Missio Nexus, which gather information and research ministry. These organizations are connected to some of the top thinkers in Christian ministry who have probably written prolifically on the topic. Even a simple Google search for “best practices in … (name your ministry)” will get you started.
Everyone hopes their efforts will be wildly successful, but pie-in-the-sky dreaming is not helpful. You’re better off to set goals that are realistic, achievable and measurable. And because you’re a Christian ministry, you should consider establishing specific spiritual goals.
For example, Global Scripture Impact may set a goal for the number of people willing to attend a church-based function or willing to accept a Bible during a distribution.
Global Scripture Impact will also set a goal for the number of people who will grow in their understanding of the Bible, as a result of the project. For example, you can measure the number of people who, after a Bible distribution, now regularly attend a Bible study where they grow in their understanding of God’s plan for them.
And action is measured by someone taking a physical step to help others grow in their faith, as a result of a project. For example, any train-the-trainer project depends on the beneficiaries taking action to train others.
Review the Project Budget
The itemized project budget should reflect the inputs (resources, equipment, tools and people) required for the project. Does the budget include everything needed? Is the budget dependent on donations? If funds don’t come in, is the project one that can be scaled?
Tally the total cost and divide that by the number of people you hope to reach (as stated in your goals) to determine the project’s cost per beneficiary. Some organizations set limits on what they will spend per person. For others, this is simply a good way to speak about your project as you approach donors.
Be prepared to report exact spending against this budget in the final assessment.
Identify the Outputs and Outcomes
By identifying the outputs and outcomes of the project, you’re setting yourself up to be able to measure its impact. You must know both. Outputs are the classes, services or products you offer (or put out) to reach your goal. Outcomes are what come out of the project. For American Bible Society, an output could be a new Bible translation. The outcome is that people’s lives are changed after engaging with God’s Word in their language.
Review Areas of Risk
Be aware of any areas of risk associated with the project, the implementing organization or partners. Don’t worry that a high-risk score will doom a project. No project is without risk. But once you have identified a risk, you should develop a plan to mitigate it or monitor it closely during implementation.
Assess the Results
After the project concludes, assess the results to see if the project achieved, exceeded or fell below expectations. Compare the impact numbers you established with the goals you set. Global Scripture Impact allows a margin of 20 percent, plus or minus, when assessing a project.
Identify Lessons Learned
When reviewing the project, look for lessons learned and unexpected consequences — both of which should feed into the design of future projects. Review the risks you identified to see if they were a problem.
Rigorous evaluation is often unpopular. You may encounter people who object to having their projects dissected. You must help your co-laborers understand that evaluation is part of a greater strategy to improve the ministry’s effectiveness. Evaluation creates a discipline for all levels of an organization and creates the framework in which to operate, measure and improve programmatically.
Mark Forshaw is the executive director of Global Scripture Impact, was previously with the World Health Organization, Geneva Global, Tearfund and African Inland Mission. He serves as an adjunct professor at Cairn University. This post is an excerpt from his article that appeared in the 2015 Fall edition of Outcomes Magazine.
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