Field Notes: The Importance of Performance Measurement

written by Kim Walker
February 6, 2013

A few weeks ago, we introduced a new blog series on HEARTH Implementation best practices that we’ve identified at the program and system levels. In our first entry in the series, we discussed the need for programs to adopt a permanent housing focus. Today we will talk about another crucial practice for programs to master: performance measurement!

In most communities, homeless assistance programs were developed before good research and data were available about who was homeless and what strategies most effectively prevented and ended homelessness. Community data can help you identify who in the community is being served well and who is slipping through the cracks. Indeed, performance measurement, besides being a requirement under the CoC regulations, is the only way you can know how well your program is performing and whether your current model is a successful one. That’s why it is crucial that you  measure your program’s performance at consistent intervals around permanent housing related outcomes.

Measure your outcomes: Most programs are already gathering data and measuring their performance on various outcomes in order to satisfy funding requirements and get a sense of how they are performing in terms of their own internal goals. The HEARTH Act takes performance measurement to a different level. Accurate HMIS data will be even more important, and one of the most important data elements will be the exit destination of people leaving the program.

Other important outcomes that you need to keep track of include new entries into homelessness, average length of homeless episodes, rates of exit to permanent housing, and housing retention. Here are some important questions you should ask yourself:

  • Does your program currently have the capacity to measure these outcomes?
  • Are you measuring these outcomes consistently and sharing the results with your staff?

Act to improve them: Beyond simply measuring and learning about your program’s performance on housing outcomes, you will need to use the information to analyze and adjust your program’s activities. For example, programs with long average lengths of stay should think about how to help households move to permanent housing more quickly. Do program staff’s roles need to shift toward focusing more on developing landlord relationships? You will also need to ensure your program’s model encourages quick exits. Are program staff assessing households right away to determine their barriers to obtaining housing?

Reallocate if necessary: You might find that their current model of your program does not enable you to reach the community’s desired outcomes for homeless assistance programs. There are many options for changing programs, ranging from somewhat minor (shifting staff responsibilities and roles) to major (changing program types and major activities). The latter may mean that the program needs to go through a formal reallocation procedure with HUD. If you feel this may be necessary, you should begin working with their CoC leaders and relevant HUD staff as quickly as possible.

For More Help on Performance Measurement:

For Help on Reallocation:

Stay tuned for the next entry in the series next Wednesday!

"Ruler" courtesy of cAtdraco's photostream.