Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hey Dad, can you measure this?

Sorry I've been away a for a long time.  I decided I better slip a post in during October just so I don't miss a whole month! 

The topic of my thoughts today:  The downside of Outcome Based Programming. 

In case you don't know this, the entire world of not-for-profit is moving in the direction of measuring outcomes, including faith based ministry. The basic premise is that the market economy and business world on the whole, have figured out how to operate efficiently.  They do this out of a profit motive and competitive demands.  Limited resources + unlimited demands = the necessity of making decisions carefully, using thrift, and creating models of efficiency.  The larger for-profit world then tries to ride those models to success.  

At Sunshine we've spent nearly a full year creating a framework for carefully clarifying out outcomes and devises to measure this.  We've worked with a great guy who knows this stuff inside and out.  He's brought the adage "if you can't measure it, it isn't real" to the table.  I think most NFP's resist this to some degree, partially out of a desire to shirk accountability (just being real here) and partially out of a sense that "you can't measure all fruit" and sometimes the activity fulfills faithfulness rather than demanding a measured result.  [e.g. As a Christian can you demand "X" number of converts for "x" amount of preaching?]

 Suffice to say there is a debate but the "we need measurable results" group is dominating the landscape.  This is why No Child Left Behind is in the schools and lots of NFP's are working hard to define, forecast, and measure results.   For the moment I'll just say this: there is a huge upside to creating better models of efficiency and measurability.  It creates accountability for the NFPs and clarity for donors.  All very important.  

BUT. . . . my wife and I had a conversation about expectations and control when it comes to our children this week that has me really thinking.  I'll admit that my life is not the norm:  7 kids, plus we are homeschooling a "daughter" (yeah Porsha!) and a full load of leading ministry and living in an urban environment.   Our kids are in a total of 4 different schools, 2 sports teams, and 3 in debate/speech, 3 volunteering and in Bible Study at Sunshine. 

What we find is that every child-institutional relationship creates pressure on us as a family to (a) meet expectations and (b) meet THIER expectations.  This is a good, normal thing and varies in demand (e.g. Sunshine wants a form filled out and signed, with "x" money by "x"date and certain homework done).  Every day we have demands placed on us that create various levels of stress.  Sometimes a lot of stress.  The school administrators, coaches, teachers, and other leaders we interact with as parents have a LONG list of demands.  It is alternately understandable, discouraging, frustrating and even creates angry responses at times.  

If you don't do this you get a demerit! If you don't do that you'll be fined!  If you don't turn this in then you can't advance!"  If you don't achieve this you fail!"  Much of it comes across in this negative tone.  Especially once you are behind on pretty much anything.  Oftentimes it comes across this way before you are behind!

Why are these folks doing this?  They are all under pressure from their leaders and donors to conform in various way to efficient, effective, predictable outcomes.  What is the response at the level of "personhood"?  Some can handle it and grow.  I am beginning to think that the pressure to produce measurable targeted, predictable, efficient outcomes virtually guarantees the failure (or the declaration of failure) on a significant group of "the least of these".  

Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against using outcomes. I am just wrestling with the human cost associated with it and the cost to the kind of ministry that, as is often reflected in the gospel, is not efficient or predictable.