Front & Center, a Newsletter for Center for Non-Profit Corporations. December 2003.
By Terri McNichol, Ren Associates with Mary Eileen Fouratt, Director, Monmouth County Arts Council.
When Monmouth County Arts Council, MCAC, decided to do a needs assessment in 2000 of its 60 + arts organizations, it called on Ren Associates to oversee the process and build into the visioning and market research process a component on outcomes-based evaluation.
There is a growing expectation for nonprofits to demonstrate not just the good they bring to their communities, but also to educate themselves about how they can capture and describe their impact. In identifying their needs, Ren Associates also wanted the arts organizations to start thinking about evaluating the impact their programs had on individuals in their community. Because the majority of nonprofits are unfamiliar with outcomes-based evaluation, a survey was specifically designed to include a section to introduce the concept of outcomes—that is, what is being achieved as a result of the organization’s programs, services and activities. The other two sections focused on needs of the organizations and the impact these organizations have within Monmouth County. Generally, data collection practices have focused on the health of organizations, the institutional outcomes, which are benefits to the organization as a result of excellence in programming such as media coverage, increased membership and donations. However, more and more what funders want to know is how is the end user—the attendee to the theater, or student participating in an after school arts program—changed as a result of the organization’s program. The survey section on outcomes defined both types of outcomes emphasizing the current focus on individual outcomes. Individual outcomes are concrete, specific, intended, and measurable skills of knowledge, behavior, attitude, life condition or life status.They are something someone (an individual) can or does say, do, think, feel, demonstrate, be, know, etc. for they represent growth in some learning domain.
After giving a description of individual outcomes in the survey, we framed a question about outcomes related to the organization’s mission such as “ Does your organization identify intended outcomes?” The majority of the organizations answered yes, if not for all, at least for some of their programs. This was followed by the question, “If so, what are the methods for collecting this information?” Some of the methods reported by the organizations are interviews, written evaluations, audience surveys, and peer or staff evaluations. Monmouth County youth music groups are well established and have both music education and performance as their mission. Examples of outcomes they see in their young participants are increased curiosity, learning concert etiquette along with mastering new musical arrangements.
Additionally, the survey section on outcomes provided a space for an example or anecdotes demonstrating individual outcomes as a way of letting the organizations know that they could also use this method as documentation. Many foundations encourage narrative accounts as a way to document outcomes in the way of changes in knowledge, skills, behavior or attitude. The power of outcome measurements was made clear when a participant in the first year of the Teen Arts Connection (MCAC's Junior Arts Council) called the Arts Education Director after his first month in art school in New York City.He said he had never felt so at home.A year before as a senior at Long Branch High School he had not even thought about going to Art School. With the support of the Teen Arts Connection and the program’s professional artists, a young person’s life direction took an unexpected turn.
Excerpted from the final report written by Terri McNichol Assessment of the Arts in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 2000-2001.