The Need for Shared Approaches to Measurement in the Alcohol and Other Drugs sector

At last month’s SIMNA event, I had the privilege of sharing learnings with two leading community agencies working in the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) sector in Southeast Melbourne. I was there to present findings on Windana Drug and Alcohol Recovery’s outcomes measurement initiative along with Connie Gardner, the executive sponsor of the project. Joining us on the panel were Anna Murru and Mike Davis, who shared the outcomes work being done at Taskforce.

After a brief introduction to the organisations and why they were developing outcomes frameworks, we delved into the “how” of developing these – warts and all. One attendee noted that hearing from both the ‘consultant’ and the ‘client’ for two organisations was a useful and rich way of presenting two case studies, translating outcomes measurement from theory to a concrete example of ‘real work’.

In terms of what worked (and what was needed to get the work started!) similar themes emerged:

  • Having Board, CEO and Executive leadership on outcomes measurement was critical
  • Staff engagement and capacity building is necessary
  • Investment to do the work over a number of years was a realistic requirement
  • Shifting to outcomes measurement is a cultural change and takes time.

We both had feedback on barriers:

  • Time poor staff were busy with the ‘doing’
  • There was concern about how the information was being used e.g. for staff performance
  • The danger of self-reporting and data quality.

But we discussed a number of practical strategies for overcoming these barriers:

  • Framing outcomes measurement as an opportunity for staff professional development
  • Appealing to staff’s genuine desire to improve the lives of their clients
  • Triangulating data with staff insights and reports on clients
  • Communication, especially key messages about what outcomes measurement is and isn’t, and the use of ‘scripting’ when collecting data.

We also found that we had similar theories of change as well as some similar outcomes and measurement tools. And more than once we mentioned that we had the same clients – the same people accessing services from both organisations.

Which led to the big question hanging in the air for me last night – how do we create the impetus and the opportunity for two organisations doing similar work in the same area to join forces and resources to create an outcomes framework together? Surely there would be immense benefit of having comparable outcomes and indicators. And at the practical level – should we start working together more formally? Who is responsible for making this happen? How do we fund the work? How is connected to wider system of changes (e.g. government)?

Which begs the next question – where to now?

Upcoming Event

We’ll be looking at Windana Drug and Alcohol Recovery’s measurement tools at our upcoming workshop, Using Data and Dashboards to Uncover Impact. Find out more.

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