Keys to High Performance: Clear Outcome Measures

written by Kim Walker
April 9, 2014

This series, “Keys to High Performance,” focuses on improving performance and maintaining high performance in homelessness assistance systems. This blog series is as a warm-up to a paper and toolkit that the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building will release on the same topic.

As I noted in our first blog post in this series, communities that make progress ending homelessness have a performance infrastructure that helps them attain and maintain high performance. Their infrastructure includes the five keys we will be discussing in this series:

  1. Shared community goals and a shared vision for ending homelessness;
  2. Clear outcome measures that define high performance;
  3. A strong governance structure that provides direction and feedback on performance;
  4. Funders that provide resources to high performing programs and promising pilot projects; and
  5. Providers that buy into the goal of ending homelessness.

Today we’ll focus on number two on this list: clear outcome measures that define high performance.

Outcomes are goals, which, if achieved, denote a change in a client’s condition as a result of services or housing received. High performing communities have outcomes that measure a client’s housing situation and clearly connect to the community’s vision and the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act. Three major HEARTH Act measures are:

  • reduction in lengths of episodes of homelessness;
  • reduction in returns to homelessness; and
  • reduction in numbers of people becoming homeless for the first time.

Measuring progress on specific outcomes allows communities to (1) hone in on and identify which performance targets are important (2) measure the progress their community is making toward realizing the community's goals and ending homelessness (3) determine if they need to make adjustments to activities or programs when performance is not good enough.

All of the outcomes a community develops need numerical targets or milestones. Targets attached to outcomes can either be static (e.g. fewer than 5 percent of people who exit homelessness experience another episode of homelessness within one year) or relative (e.g. 10 percent fewer people who exit homelessness experience another episode of homelessness within one year).

The HEARTH Act offers some potential initial numerical targets for high performing communities (available here), but communities may need to use their own data to determine what a sensible target is for each outcome. Need help analyzing your community’s data? Take a look at our Performance Improvement Calculator tool, which can help you both review your community’s current performance and make strategic decisions to improve it.