If You Care about Something—Measure It

Street maintenance can be efficientThe City of Alexandria, Virginia, has a Pothole Patrol: every resident who detects a pothole can report it online or by calling the city’s street maintenance hotline. If they call in, the switchboard operator will tell them exactly when the street maintenance team will fill the pothole, with the city having made a commitment to fill holes within 72 hours of getting a report.

“They can be so precise because they are information rich. They use the data to inform their decision making,” said Dr. Ray C. Rist, a former Alexandria resident and an internationally recognized authority on evaluation and metrics. Because of its efforts to collect and evaluate data, Alexandria’s street maintenance department is aware of its capacity and can balance its workload at any given time, which allows it to be good at keeping promises.

In addition to collecting citizen reports, Street Maintenance surveys road conditions regularly. The data it collects and the pothole reports are made public on its website. There, residents can also find a road repair schedule for the whole year and meet the street maintenance team. Every year, the city mails residents a report detailing its work.

“You cannot base your planning on ‘I think so. I hope so,’” Dr. Rist said at a five-day training conference in October organized by the America for Bulgaria Foundation for corporate and NGO partners, government representatives, and researchers. “It’s not enough. You need data—especially if you are spending other people’s money. You have to be able to show you are doing it well.”

Dr. Rist underscored the need for institutions to put in place an appropriate monitoring and evaluation system. A good system will allow them to collect the right data and measure the results of their activities. “If you want the country to rally behind you, you need to tell them what you are up to. Demonstrating results will win you public support,” he said.

By and large, businesses understand the importance of monitoring and evaluation for their commercial activities, yet they often fail to apply the same type of rigor in examining their CSR activities. What social responsibility entails and how to do good without sacrificing your financial health will remain a mystery unless companies gauge the impact of their activities. “If you do not measure results, you cannot tell success from failurе. If you cannot see success, you cannot reward it. If you cannot reward success, you are probably rewarding failure,” Dr. Rist said.

A first step for any business, NGO, or local government is to define what success is. In education, this can be increasing enrollment by 40 percent or reducing dropout rates by half. For an art institution, selling out at least 70 percent of performances may be a fair aspiration. Most local governments are content with repairing major road damage before the next winter season. With an appropriate system in place, organizations can work effectively toward meeting these goals.

For the past two years, ABF has invested in building a results-based monitoring and evaluation system for its programs and has also committed to sharing this knowledge with its many partners in government, business, and the NGO community in order to help build their capacity. As part of this effort, more than 130 individuals had the opportunity to attend the week-long course in Sofia last month and meet with Dr. Rist individually in order to discuss specific concerns from their fields.

Dr. Rist has counseled US presidents and trained government officials all over the world. He has worked for leading US and international institutions such as the World Bank and is the author or editor of 35 books and 140 articles on measuring the impact of charitable programs and state policies. Dr. Rist is one of the creators and co-directors of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training at the University of Bern and current president of the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS).

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