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  Management
  Alternatives Pty Ltd
  ABN 23 050 334 435

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Results based accountability in human services. What it is. What it isn’t. What’s needed with it.

Results based accountability (RBA)** in human services is a systematic way of thinking things through to take action to improve programs, agencies and service systems to help make people better off and/or to improve the quality of life in communities, cities, states and nations.

It is a systematic way of thinking things through to take action.

Some of the key questions in that process of thinking things through to act at the level of communities, cities and states and nations are:

  • What are the quality of life conditions we want for the children, adults and families who live in our community?
  • What would these conditions look like if we could see or experience them?
  • How can we measure these conditions?
  • How are we going on the most important measures?
  • Who are the partners that have a role to play in doing better?
  • What works to do better, including no-cost and low-cost ideas?
  • What do we propose to do? **

Some of the key questions in the process of thinking things through to act at the level of programs, agencies and service systems are:

  • Who are our customers?
  • How can we measure if our customers are better off?
  • How can we measure of we’re delivering services well?
  • How are we doing on the most important measures?
  • Who are the partners that have a role to play in doing better?
  • What works to do better, including no-cost and low-cost ideas?
  • What do we propose to do. **

RBA is a systematic way of thinking things through to take action. So at its best it will:

  • provide a common language (eg results, indicators, baselines, turning the curve, strategies, performance measures including: How much did we do? How well did we do it? Is anyone better off?)
  • help people work together to focus on results to be achieved
  • help people work together to focus on improving results and thinking through how this can be done.
  • motivate interest in and build connections with evaluation processes in programs, agencies and service networks
  • motivate interest in and build connections with research into programs so we can find out what we need to know - particularly research that helps us understand how programs work, in what circumstances and to what effect

RBA is not a theory of change - people using RBA need useful theories of change in the process of working out what works in what contexts to produce what results.

RBA is not a substitute for evaluation - RBA could be one element of a program’s or agency’s evaluation processes.

RBA is not a substitute for research - to use RBA effectively people will need the knowledge from the relevant research and evidence about their programs and interventions.

RBA is not a way of measuring program results; it is not a measurement system - the data doesn’t provide the answers; RBA doesn’t have a way of attributing results to programs; RBA it is a way of gathering data to help ask good questions about how to improve programs.

RBA is not a program funding tool - it is a way of thinking, reflecting and dialoguing for improved action.

At is worst RBA, through no fault of its own, will be turned into:

  • A data reporting system - where monitoring data designed to help us ask good questions is turned into reporting data to judge the performance of programs and where the focus for RBA and the measure of RBA’s implementation is the data gathering step - Where are the performance measures? rather than the dialogue for improved action
  • A reason not to thoroughly evaluate programs, agencies and service networks
  • A reason for minimising investment in research and minimising the use of research into the effectiveness of programs
  • A bureaucratic system.

Good practice?

Good practice in human services = Thinking things through with Results Based Accountability + Theory of change + Evaluation and other quality improvement processes + Research + Being holistic + Not bureaucratising the process.


** Mark Friedman (2005) Trying Hard is Not Good Enough How to produce measurable improvements for customers and communities. Trafford Publishing. pp11-12 available from Mark Friedman's web site

Paul Bullen
4 April 2007