How Good Performance Measurement Creates Dialogue That Dignifies Everyone

by Stacey Barr |

When measurement is done to people, the wrong things change. But when measurement is done through dialogue, it dignifies everyone, and the right things change.

Two teams shouting at each other

Measurement of performance in non-profits often isn’t a priority. They don’t have the resources to set up good measurement systems, and soldier on to do the best they can for their constituents, without the right data.

Of course, not all non-profits subscribe to the notion that measurement isn’t affordable. Some truly understand the power of measurement to get the highest impact they can from their constrained resources. But non-profits – and in fact any organisation struggling with tricky problems – can amplify the use of measurement beyond just monitoring.

Meme Styles is a social activist and runs a non-profit called MEASURE Austin, in the United States. They target social issues that impact mostly people of colour in their community. And they believe in the use of performance measurement and data to understand and resolve those social issues. But Meme and her team use measurement in a unique way that amplifies the resolution of social issues:

“Of course we are data driven as we strive to use fact-based research and advocacy on behalf of certain segments of the population. Our efforts are innovative within the ecosystem of social justice entities as we encourage folks that look like me to be the data collectors and the storytellers.”

MEASURE Austin’s innovativeness comes from a performance measurement approach that focuses on using dialogue to create
exceptionally high ownership of measures by people on both sides of the social issues

“So through PuMP, through the development of collaborative performance measures, we’re really able to identify problems and then create a few actionable measures to hold the system truly accountable.”

One of the social issues that MEASURE focused on was community policing in Austin:

“So, in 2015 after having a very heated debate about the lack of community policing measures, I went to work to apply the PuMP methodology to that exact issue. We convened a Measure Design team that consisted of an equal number of community activists and an equal number of police officers in one room.”

It’s a scary thought, having traditionally opposing groups of people in the same room, trying to solve a problem they have diametrically opposed perspectives on. Personally, I’ve never used PuMP in such a tense situation before. I have never tested how well it can hold the space for constructive dialogue among people with a history of opposing one another. It’s Meme who found the answer:

“We were literally dealing with the notion of police officers using power against a community that are oppressed by systems that have been systemically against a particular people. I needed to create communication that had never been there before and I needed to do it in a strategic way. So the PuMP methodology and the Results Map, oh my gosh we love the Results Map, was the answer.”

Listen to the full story of the goals, measures, and results that Meme, the community activists and the police officers used PuMP to create, for positive social change…

When measurement is done through dialogue rather than by directive, it dignifies everyone, and the right things change.
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Are you taking short cuts in your development of performance measures, by avoiding the hard conversations? When you have a human-centred approach to measurement, you can trust the process will hold the space for dialogue that brings people together around results they all care about, and measures they own.

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