Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Why picking the right KPI is so important

In a recent post on SSIR Christina Triantaphyllis and Matthew Forti talk about the problem with focussing on the overhead vs. impact ratio when assessing charitable work. For me, this is just another step along the chain (donor -> charity -> local NGO) where the use of incorrect KPIs leads to exactly the opposite of the desired behaviour.

During my time working in rural India I was struck by the extent to which NGOs tailored their activities not to those actions that had the highest impact, but that would tick the most funding boxes. During the course of the year I came to understand the problem - funding is so difficult to come by that NGOs have to fight tooth and nail in order to secure finances. They cannot be picky about the sources of that income, nor can they afford to let an opportunity pass, therefore if a donor organisation says a particular report / action is required, that is what the NGO provides.

In the extreme, this results in very peculiar behaviour. NGOs recording the number of attendees of workshops, but not the results of any learning. Photographic evidence being required of meetings, rather than documented minutes / actions.

The source of this insanity? The laziness of the funding organisations. Measuring true impact takes effort. It costs money. It may show that your initial approach was wrong. That money has been badly spent. That the hypothesis was wrong.

If an analogy is needed, here is my best attempt: You start in London and need to travel to Manchester. You research before hand and learn that it is 200 miles. You can travel at 50mph, so you know you need to travel for 4 hrs. You set off in what you think is the right direction and, without checking a map, GPS or roadsigns, travel for 4 hrs, with the only monitoring being a regular check that you are, in fact, travelling at 50 mph. You assume that as long as you continue taking this action you will arrive at your destination.

The flaw in this argument is obvious. You need continuous assessment (measurement) that you are travelling in the right direction. Taking action does not automatically result in the right result. While there is some truth in the maxim "some action is better than none", it is not true that any action is always the best one.

Measuring charities on their overhead vs programmes spend is the wrong thing to measure. In the same way that measuring the number of workshops run is not the right KPI for field work. However, in a competitive market, the only action open to organisations looking for funding is to fall in line and do the best they can.

The only way this changes is with the first step in the chain...

Monday, 11 November 2013

International Development - a change of direction

It's been a while since I've been on here. It happens a lot. I write for a bit and then stop. Write a bit then stop. This time though, I've got a massive incentive to keep it up....I've started a Masters degree in International Development!

I'm realising very quickly that I need to keep writing my thoughts down so that I articulate myself properly and ensure I properly understand a topic. While I've coped with my first assignment, I recognised too late that I didn't know my subject area in enough depth to be able to argue it reasonably. That's not good enough, so from now on I'm going to try and post once or twice a week, whether it's on topics to do with my latest reading for my masters, or a topic I've found on a blog. Hopefully this will really get me involved in my subject, draw me into the Blogosphere again and (ultimately) get me the grades I need!

So without further ado, let's get started :-)