Moving Beyond Outcomes Measurement to Outcomes Management: Reflections from the 2019 Winter Innovation Summit

This February, the Empowering Families Learning Community convened in Utah’s Wasatch Valley for the cohort’s sixth and final in-person meeting. The Empowering Families Learning Community participated in Sorenson Impact’s annual conference, The Winter Innovation Summit. In addition to participating in the broader conference, Third Sector also hosted a series of breakout sessions that reflected on the impressive work the Learning Community has accomplished to date. During these breakout sessions, Empowering Families sites heard from inspiring guest speakers who are implementing equity-driven and outcomes-oriented contracting strategies across their government agencies, and brainstormed strategies for sustaining and scaling the work they’ve accomplished through the Empowering Families Initiative.

The opening plenary of the Summit featured Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California. During his remarks, Mayor Tubbs shared a poem by Tupac Shakur titled “The Rose that Grew from Concrete,” which he related to his personal experience, as well as his role in cultivating local community development in Stockton. Mayor Tubbs encouraged conference attendees to remember ways their social impact work could support “roses,” individuals and communities, while also removing the “concrete,” which represents structural barriers to equal opportunities. The metaphor was an important reminder of both the resilience of individuals and communities and the need for governments to focus more on removing structural barriers to restore equitable opportunities for the communities they serve.

The metaphor of the rose that rises from concrete resonated throughout the Empowering Families Learning Community sessions. During the cohort breakout sessions, the Empowering Families sites identified strategies for sustaining and scaling the work they’ve accomplished to date to implement outcomes-oriented initiatives across their agencies. One Empowering Families site, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), shared their experience driving program and agency-level change to the broader Winter Innovation Summit during their Deep Dive session titled “Aligning Government Resources for Results."

During this session, Glenn Robinson, the Deputy Director of the Employment and Benefits Division at CDHS and Jake Moy, a Manager at Third Sector who is leading our work in Colorado, shared Colorado’s experience working with Third Sector during the Empowering Families grant. Glenn highlighted CDHS’ performance management system, C-Stat, which has enhanced CDHS’ ability to align programs with desired outcomes, iteratively measure program performance, and make corrective adjustments that improve outcomes for families. Third Sector has been partnering with CDHS to improve outcomes for TANF-eligible families in Colorado, implementing outcomes-oriented enhancements within CDHS’ Subsidized Employment and Training Program (CW STEP) and disseminating and elevating best-practices across the agency. After Glenn and Jake shared their experience collaborating in Colorado, a lively discussion involving government leaders from across the country unfolded. Three critical lessons emerged from Glenn and Jake’s session and the subsequent discussion with other government leaders.  

1. Define Outcomes with Communities, not for Communities: Echoing another quote from Mayor Tubbs: “Nothing about us, for us, is good without us,” Glenn received many questions on the strategies CDHS has developed to incorporate community and service provider feedback in program design and program management. Glenn shared that CDHS continues to make an effort to both incorporate service provider feedback into the selection of outcomes, as well as to take local context and baseline data into account when establishing outcomes goals with local communities and providers. Glenn and Jake spoke to how Third Sector’s work with CDHS represented a recent example of this kind of collaboration, where Third Sector supported the agency in engaging providers in identifying key participant outcomes, setting achievable, yet high-bar performance goals, and mapping key implementation considerations.

2. Move Beyond Outcomes Measurement to Outcomes Management: CDHS’ performance management system, C-Stat, has provided CDHS leadership with actionable data that enable the agency to examine if programs are achieving their goals, as well as overarching trends in performance. Each month, CDHS leadership and program managers review a variety of reports that provide an up-to-date picture of how programs, are progressing towards state-level outcomes targets. Moreover, the meetings provide dedicated space for staff and leadership to identify strategies for continuous improvement, recognize accomplishments, and further encourage an agency-wide culture of learning. Glenn highlighted how CDHS’ work with Third Sector to identify and incentive a shortlist of performance outcomes within CW STEP re-enforces these same principles and practices on the individual contract level, supporting both CDHS and its providers in better understanding performance relative to others, tracking if and how participants are progressing towards a higher wage, and rewarding providers for meeting county-specific performance targets that consider regional differences in economic conditions.

3. Empower Public Sector Leaders to Unlock Change in the Social Sector:  Another key message emerging from the breakout discussions was the role of agency leadership in empowering staff and emerging leaders to innovate and implement outcomes-oriented strategies, such as elevating service provider feedback, developing continuous improvement and incentive strategies, and sharing data with providers and local communities. Glenn stated that CDHS’ goal is to be the leading state social service agency in the US, emphasizing how leadership’s role in setting clear priorities and building a culture of learning has been instrumental to continued progress. Moreover, opportunities for multi-stakeholder collaboration, like the Empowering Families initiative, provide key opportunities for these emerging leaders to connect with, share out, learn from, and implement outcomes-oriented strategies that can have an outsize impact across the agency.

These lessons resonated across the audience at CDHS’ Deep Dive, and throughout the Empowering Families breakout sessions. During the next phase of the Empowering Families Initiative, sites will now transition to implementing these tools at scale across their agencies, and partnering with other government agencies to accelerate the adoption of outcomes-oriented strategies across their jurisdictions. Collectively, these lessons represent tools that enable government to deliver on its promise and aspiration to provide equitable opportunities for all of the families and communities they serve. The impact of the Empowering Families Learning Community will continue to grow as each sites iteratively identifies and implements additional strategies for improving outcomes for families.