The Struggle for Innovation and Effectiveness

“Performance measurement”, “outcomes” and “innovation” are all popular buzzwords used by funders looking to support programs that are innovative but also tested, analyzed and otherwise proven.  Earlier this year, the John Hopkins University Center for Civil Policy Studies conducted a survey to examine use of innovative programs and strategies, program evaluation and the challenges nonprofits face in balancing both.  The project sampled nonprofits nationwide from the areas of child and family services, community development, economic development, the arts and elderly services.

The brief, entitled, Nonprofits, Innovation and Performance Measurement: Separating Fact from Fiction, discusses their findings, including:

  • Over 80% of respondents implemented a minimum of one innovation in the past 5 years.
  • Over 66% reported at least one innovation that they had wanted to implement but couldn’t in the past 2 years.
  • The majority (85%) conducted measurement of effectiveness of at least some of their services annually while 66% did so for over half their programs.

Challenges to being both innovative and evidence-based included use of complex, time-consuming and often unclear measurement tools and little to no funding for effectiveness measurement and evaluation.

Childhood Obesity

Recent reports on childhood obesity indicate that although interventions are taking place to address the problem, substantial challenges remain. Still, there is some promising news:

  • In May 2010, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity released their recommendations for addressing this serious health issue using public and private actions, initiatives and benchmarks. The recommendations were centered around: education and empowerment of families to make healthy decisions, accessibility and affordability of healthy foods and increased physical activity.
  • Wellness programs in schools may hold the key to successfully addressing this health problem according to the results of a three-year study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study, conducted by the The HEALTHY Study Group, found that while the interventions didn’t reduce the overweight and obesity rate overall, it did reduce the risk of diabetes and the rate of obesity in the highest risk group of children.

Effectiveness of Charter Schools

A recent report from RAND examines the impact of charter schools on student achievements in eight states.

Findings from the study Charter Schools in Eight States: Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition include:

  • middle and high school grade charter schools show “achievement gains” similar to those in public schools
  • charter high school attendees are more likely to graduate and continue their education by attending college

Read more about the findings and policy implications of this long-term study of charter school student achievement at the RAND website.