I attended a seminar last Friday on Results Based Accountability which was lead by the creator of the theory Mark Friedman; author of Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough. Mark is a classic accountant with the attitude that everything should be simple, succinct and comprehensible (and I can certainly sympathise with that).
I was concerned going into this seminar that this would be just another method for testing the quality of our work that only took into account numbers and figures and not the more difficult to measure elements of attitudes, circumstances and the key questions: is anyone ACTUALLY better off?
While I think there is an element of sameness to this work (as any data based system will have) there were some very refreshing elements too. Firstly Mark really GOT that any sort of accountability needed to be primarily be focused on quality of change/effect and whether anyone was actually better off as a result! Brilliant. He also got that both funders, donors and providers are all trying to achieve the same things but where we are at odds is how we need to communicate our successes.
Results Based Accountability also focused on being 5 things:
- Common Sense
- Plain Language
- Minimum Paper
Now he had my attention. I was particularly impressed with the focus of this model on weeding out jargon! We use SO much jargon in this work and our language doesn’t always translate well either. Too many terms. Too few definitions (especially for people/communities/churches starting out in this work- you basically need a foreign language guide) and too little discipline.
To give an example of this:
My last post was about Bright Spots in which I pointed out that the theory of “Bright Spots” has cross-overs with theories of “Positive Deviance and “Asset Based Community Development” … and this is the problem! When I use one term do you understand it? Are these terms nuanced enough to justify having all three? Is there a SIMPLER way we could say all of them to ensure better comprehension across the sector. Are there ways that we can removed jargon as much as possible from this work (in the same way we are consistently trying to strike-out Christianese from our Church services)? I hope so.
We are also lacking in discipline when it comes to defining what the general problem is verses the specifics that we, as a community group, are accountable for. For example the general (whole of population) goal may be a more connected community while the specific performance measure for our community group may be number/percentage of people who are connected with community groups. It is our language again that fails us and means that we often mix ends with means.
Finally Results Based accountability focuses on “turning the curve” rather than meeting a designated target- which is far more realistic and community focused. The example given was that a newly appointed police chief who set himself the public target of improving crime rates by 50% in the first year (a point-to-point goal) would be seen as a failure if he only managed to see them reduce by 47% (which would actually be a huge success!) however if he had focused instead on “turning the curve” of crime rates this effort can be measured as a success. As per diagram below:
In coming months MarionLIFE will be receiving mentoring on Results Based Accountability through Community Centres SA (a fantastic group with whom we are full members) so I will keep you updated on what all this means in a specific situation.
Although I am not won-over that this is the be-all-and-end-all of report and reflection tools, I do think it has quite a bit to offer us in its simplicity.
What do you think about this method of Accountability? And how accountable should Churches and community groups be to the success of their programs?
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