Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Democratization of Social Impact Measurement: Why I Joined Algorhythm




I spent roughly thirty years helping to manage human service and health care organizations dedicated to serving those most in need. I then spent almost 7 years at Charity Navigator. As a result, I was lifted out of the trenches of direct service and exposed to the intoxicatingly “thin air” of thought leaders, consultants and academics who dwell at the 50,000 foot level of the nonprofit and social sector.  The ideas and principles of many of those individuals are brilliant and exciting. However, more often than not, their ideas are either 20 to 30 years ahead of where most of the sector is today or just simply wrong (nice in theory but not in practice). 

Nonetheless, there was one fundamental concept that some of them promoted that made complete sense to me - the need to have nonprofits pay attention to data and measure what they do to be certain they are meeting their mission. For thirty years in the trenches I collected plenty of data, but it was mostly just counting stuff and rarely indicative of meaningful change in the lives of people being served. Therefore, about six months into my job at Charity Navigator I announced to the world (on my blog site) that we were going to change the way we rated charities over time to focus on outcomes. 

Over the years that followed I became an increasingly outspoken advocate for managing and measuring what matters most to achieve nonprofit and social enterprises good works.  However, I also became increasingly aware of a fundamental problem, I called it the Occupy Charity problem. That is, that roughly 1% of nonprofits in the USA (registered here but serving every country in the world), take in about 86% of the $2 trillion dollars that comes into the sector each year. In fact, it is a global problem and their is a similar situation in most countries. 

I observed that the leaders of the 1% tend to dominate the conversations around all things having to do with the sector in general. Not surprisingly, the consultants and institutes that developed models of performance management and measurement have predominantly been geared to them as well. After all, that’s where the bulk of the money is! As a result, a typical response to my speeches about performance management and measurement by the leaders of small and mid-sized nonprofits around the country was, “How will we ever afford to do that stuff?”

That was a very good question. My answers were very limited and over time even less so, until 2013. That was the year I began talking to Peter York about his new company called Algorhythm. He described a low cost, scalable tool he was developing to help the other 99% take advantage of Big Data, machine learning and other cutting edge technologies. He also mentioned how the tool gave front line staff the ability to know even before a program begins the likelihood of success, as well as things they could do proactively to make the program more effective. He noted that, through aggregation of data from many small nonprofits, they could learn together and get even better at delivery of high quality services. Amazingly, it could all be accomplished at 10 to 20 times less than the traditional tools and systems.

So when I left Charity Navigator and was considering what to do next in my career, the offer to join Algorhythm was a no brainer! I had met with nonprofits and experts on measurement from  around the world. There was and is no one else I am aware of that has a tool like Algorhythm. I came to this realization two years ago, while still at Charity Navigator, and have been promoting them ever since with absolutely no financial “skin” in the game. Yes that has changed since I now work at Algorhythm and could arguably be biased. However, working here has only deepened my appreciation for the immense value these tools can bring to organizations that are willing to consider them. 

Below is a list of some of the outstanding things that the Algorythm - iLearning System can help a nonprofit or social enterprise to do:

  1. Identify all pathways to success for their beneficiaries.
  2. Provide on-demand insights to the frontline staff.
  3. Provide big-picture strategic insights to leadership.
  4. Empower and engage beneficiaries in the learning and improvement process.
  5. Connect everyone to an evolving learning network.
  6. Transform data for reporting into data for meaningful improvement.


Given all this, I believe that Algorhythm has “cracked the code” for the 99% of small and mid-sized charities that have been left out of the social impact revolution. The wait is over for a system that can provide meaningful information on what matters most to every nonprofit or social enterprise’s mission. No longer will these organizations have to face the increasing demands of funders or investors for outcome data without a viable affordable option to meet that need. No longer will front line staff be faced with yet another meaningless reporting requirement that adds no value to their work. No longer will beneficiaries of services be voiceless and disengaged from the program design and improvement process. 


I hope that funders, investors, experts, as well as leaders of nonprofits and social enterprises will begin to stand up and take notice of this one of a kind accomplishment. We have heard about the wonders that Big Data and machine learning are doing in the traditional for profit world. It’s now time to finally have our turn and create the most effective and high performing organizations imaginable. As a result, we will be able to help many more communities and people in need in measurable ways. The world can be a much better place as a consequence. Please join us. The future is now. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is great. You never know where the next important breakthroughs will come from, and without the right measurements and communication, we might never reap the benefits. Tara