In this inaugural edition of our blog, maybe the first question we ought to answer is Why do this; why launch yet another blog in a space that is already overwhelmed with competing opinions and a lack of consensus on so many basic issues?
One reason is precisely because of the multiplicity of opinions regarding outcomes, the need for them in the work of nonprofits (and government, and philanthropy…). On one side, there are those who suggest that because of the historical lack of a focus on outcomes, there is scant evidence that the work of most nonprofits has made any discernible difference at all on the multiple problems these organizations exist to address. Additionally, there are some who suggest that those pushing for outcomes in the work of nonprofits are missing the point, or –worse- that an insistence on outcomes as a measure of effectiveness is a wrong-headed approach that will only move nonprofits to focus on those things that are the easiest to solve.
On the other side there are those who, like us, believe that a focus on outcomes and performance is ultimately the only valid measure by which nonprofits can and should be assessed, that the debate currently taking place regarding the place of outcomes is literally nothing less than a battle for the soul of the sector. Yet this belief, we need to point out, is tempered by a healthy dose of reality, by a recognition that, in the scheme of things, the focus on outcomes is a relatively new phenomenon, and by an awareness that many of those very institutions now asking for outcomes (Are you listening, foundations and governments?) have done precious little by way of enabling nonprofits to meet this demand…either by offering the resources and guidance on how to do it, or by providing the wherewithal necessary. We recognize that the ability to focus on, achieve, and report on meaningful, sustainable outcomes may not come to the best of nonprofits for a few years yet; and for the rest, the achievement of that goal may be even more years off.
We intend this space to be a forum for debating not only how outcomes can and should be applied to the nonprofit (and governmental, and philanthropic…) world(s).
Beyond this, we want this to also be a place for new ideas, perspectives, and tools to be presented and discussed. Is there a place, for example, for a powerful tool such as Six Sigma in any but the largest, most resourced and capable on nonprofits? Can other tools regularly utilized in the for-profit world, such things as Value Engineering and SERVQUAL or FMEA analysis be adapted and adopted by nonprofits as ways to take a look at that they’re doing and gain insights on improvements they might make? Are outcomes an idea that is only applicable to the nonprofit/charitable/NGO reality of the U.S., UK, and Canada, or can nations with differing value structures and traditions –Russia, Western and Eastern Europe- profitably use them as well? Can they be, should they be applied to rapidly emerging nonprofit setting such as India and China? Is it too early or too late to apply these ideas to the settings of Latin America and Africa? Can government agencies, constrained by legislative and executive policy (and civil service rules) successfully implement an (outcomes) approach that might appear to fly in the face of both tradition and the-way-we-do-things-around-here? We’d like all these questions to be debated here.
Finally, we will continue to look beyond the usual boundaries of the nonprofit (and governmental, and philanthropic…) worlds for nontraditional perspectives and sometimes oddball ideas about where the nonprofit world might look for inspiration and insight.
We invite all commentators, all perspectives, and all axes-to-grind. We hope you will accept the invitation…