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SMART? Targets: A Fill-in-the-Blanks Model for Crafting Unbeatable Outcome Measures
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Contributed by Maryn Boess
Like many grant professionals, I do a lot of teaching and coaching on grants-related topics, and in working with both grants rookies and seasoned veterans I’m always looking for tools and models to help make life simpler – to clarify issues, articulate vision, organize our thoughts, and manage the details of the proposal planning and development process.
Not surprisingly, one of the stickiest issues for folks at every level of expertise is that of how to develop strong, solid, funder-friendly outcome measures. I’ve learned that in many cases, if not most, it’s possible to break the mystery and mystique of outcome measures down to a simple, powerful step-by-step process that not only results in unbeatable measures, but actually gives you a head start on your evaluation plan.
The SMART? Targets process began as part of GrantsUSA’s standard grants workshop presentations; the accompanying fill-in-the-blanks model was suggested by GrantsUSA trainer Sandra Simmons and has proved to be so valuable that we now include it in all our workshops as well.
Ready? Here we go . . .
The SMART? Targets Model
How many thousands of hours do you suppose have been spent discussing and arguing about the definition of “goals” and “objectives”? What I know is that these terms are understood very differently by professionals in different fields – academia, health, government, and so on. At GrantsUSA we sidestep the semantics by using the following terms:
Purpose: A description of the long-term results you hope for from a program or effort, stated in broad community or societal terms.
An example from a literacy program might be, for instance: “The purpose of our project is to ensure that adults have the opportunity to learn to read and write, in order to achieve their full potential as individuals, as employees, as parents, and as members of the community at large.” Inspiring, yes – but hardly something we want to hold ourselves solely accountable for.
Target: A specific change or impact on your target population or community that you can reasonably expect to achieve as a direct result of the efforts you propose.
“Targets” may start out as brief statements of those intended changes, or what we call “success indicators” – as in, “What will success look like for this program or intervention?” For our literacy organization, let’s suppose we’re seeking funding for our one-on-one tutoring services. One success indicator might be, very simply: “To help participants improve their reading skills.”
Now all grant professionals worth our salt will recognize right away that this statement simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as an outcome measure. Why? Because it’s lacking the key characteristics necessary to give us something we can hold ourselves accountable to. Here’s where the SMART? Targets model comes into play. The first part of the model will look familiar to many who’ve tussled with definitions of goals and objectives – but hang on, I guarantee something new at the end. As a reminder of the qualities of an effective outcome statement, here’s what SMART? stands for:
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Aggressive
R = Reachable
T = Time-limited
. . . so far nothing new, but hold on . . .
? = “as measured by what?”
When we build the answer to the question “As measured by what?” into our thinking as we’re developing our outcome statements, we’re doing two very important things. Number one, we’re making sure, up front, that we have, or can get or develop, some workable tool or process or device for collecting the information to help us track our success. And number two, we’re building our evaluation into the very structure of the plan, rather than – as so often seems to happen – kind of tacking it on at the end, almost as a necessary if unpleasant afterthought. The very act of asking and answering this question up front forces us to be very clear and very realistic in our thinking about outcomes – qualities that not only appeal to funders, but also lead to better-managed programs.
The Fill-in-the-Blanks Model
Remember our initial success indicator: “To help participants improve their reading skills”? How do we get from this 98-pound weakling to a powerhouse outcome statement that wins friends and influences funders? Time to introduce the fill-in-the-blanks model suggested by my colleague Sandra Simmons. Starting with your skinny little success indicator, think through each of the following questions about your vision of the change you intend to create. (We’ve filled in the blanks with our literacy example.)
Time frame: By what date? Within what time period? . . . After six months . . .
Intervention: What is the work or service you’re applying to create the intended change? . . . of one-on-one tutoring . . .
What portion of what target group: . . . 75% of the adult learners served by this project . . .
Direction of change: Is something going up or down, getting larger or smaller? . . . will improve . . .
Area of impact: What is going up or down, getting larger or smaller? . . . their reading skills . . .
Degree of impact: . . . by two grade levels . . .
As measured by what indicators: . . . as measured by their scores . . .
Using what instrument: . . . on the Lumbard Literacy Evaluation Scale . . .
Administered when: . . . administered at the beginning and end of the six-month period.
Put all the fill-ins together, and here’s what you get:
“After six months of one-on-one tutoring, 75% of the adult learners served by this project will improve their reading skills by two grade levels, as measured by their scores on the Lumbard Literacy Evaluation Scale administered at the beginning and end of the six-month period.”
Voila! – A foolproof outcome measure that will inspire confidence in your funders every time.
Let’s take another example, this time from the arts community. Suppose you want to increase ticket sales for your small community theater, and are seeking a grant for a marketing campaign to help build your audience base. Perhaps one of your strategies is to increase the number of first-time ticket buyers. Here’s how this might look when we apply the fill-in-the-blanks formula:
Time frame: Within the first 12 months . . .
Intervention: . . . of our new-audience recruitment program . . .
Area of impact: . . . the average number of first-time ticket buyers per performance . . .
Direction of change: . . . will increase . . .
Degree of impact: . . . by at least 50% . . .
As measured by what indicators: . . . as measured by responses . . .
Using what instrument: . . . to an online survey . . .
Administered when: . . . administered at the time tickets are purchased.
You’ll notice in this example that we juggled the formula just a bit – dropping one fill-in-the-blank and moving another one around to suit the situation. What’s left are the bare essentials – the key elements that form the framework for an unbeatable outcome measure.
Happy grantseeking, my friends.
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