Primer: What is Results-Based Accountability?

Background: There is a lot of buzz about RBA or Results-Based Accountability in Vermont’s social policy circles these days.  You may hear legislators, state agency staff, and nonprofit leaders discussing it in the halls of the State House. But what is RBA and what difference will it make for Vermont?

Results-Based Accountability™ is a framework for establishing “population level” outcomes—or big picture social goals–for policy makers, communities and coalitions. It is also flexible enough to help nonprofit organizations and state agencies track their efforts and contribution to these goals.  Detailed by Mark Friedman in “Trying Hard is Not Good Enough” and field tested in Vermont since 1993, RBA has been used by the Vermont Agency of Human Services and United Ways across the state since the early 2000’s. It is the source of the first Vermont Scorecard, which tracked the well-being of Vermonters during across multiple indicators.

Results-Based Accountability is re-gaining ground in Vermont due to four factors:

–          A major federal grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service enabled forward-thinking state partners to create Benchmarks for a Better Vermont in order to train nonprofits, state government, and the Legislature—to speak the language of results and frame policy and program work within the context of RBA. Since 2011, more than 700 people were trained and RBA has become the lingua franca of results in Vermont. There is now an infrastructure of trainers and decision makers poised to move performance based management and evidenced based policy forward.

–          Vermont legislators are seeking increased accountability and better information for policy decisions. S. 293, introduced by Senator Diane Snelling with the support of the Government Accountability Committee, is now under consideration in the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

–          State Agencies are looking closely at how they do business: how they manage results and their measures. The Agency of Administration recently created a new position and hired Sue Zeller as Chief Performance Officer. She is charged with improving the performance of state government and RBA is an important tool to move this agenda forward.

–          The network of nonprofit and state leaders who are turning to data and results as a standard way of doing business is growing.

–          Interest in alternative indicators of well-being is also growing across the state, with, for example, the adoption of the Genuine Progress Indicator by the Legislature in 2012.

Results-Based Accountability is a framework for evaluation, planning, and collaboration that is simple, common sense and useful. RBA uses data to measure success and make decisions.  While people in the trenches believe in the importance of their efforts, it is not so easy for an outsider (funder, community member, etc) to understand the impact. That is why RBA looks uses baseline results to gauge success or failure.  There is also a fatal trap of many organizations (for profit and nonprofit), that collect a lot of data but when it comes to decision making, they go with their “gut instinct”.  RBA makes provides a process to use data to inform decisions, challenge assumptions and make it easier to explain actions to other stakeholders.

One of the biggest challenges that stakeholders face in this work is the problem of language.  People come to the table from many different disciplines and backgrounds.  RBA provides a common language to talk about performance and understand someone else’s performance. The RBA framework offers tools for choosing a common language of results, indicators and performance measures.

RBA starts with the “end in mind”: What do we want? (Result or Outcome)  How will we recognize it? (Indicators) What will it take to get there? (Actions) How will we know? (Measures).

RBA distinguishes between whole populations and customers and clients who are served by programs.  The most important reason for this distinction is to identify who is accountabl for the results, at the end of the day.  Population accountability cannot be assigned to any one individual, organization or level of government, these are shared results with the different stakeholders. Organization’s work is achieved on a program level with the people they serve, with a distinct set of indicators and measures.

The 7 Population Accountability Questions
1. What are the quality of life conditions we want for the people who live in our community?
2. What would these conditions look like if we could see them?
3. How can we measure these conditions?
4. Who are the partners that have a role to play in doing better?
5. What works to do better, including no-cost and low-cost ideas?
6. What do we propose to do?

The 7 Performance Accountability Questions
1. Who are our customers?
2. How can we measure if our customers are better off?
3. How can we measure if we are delivering services well?
4. How are we doing on the most important of these measures?
5. Who are the partners that have a role to play in doing better?
6. What works to do better, including no-cost and low-cost ideas?
7. What do we propose to do?

Learn more at: www.resultsaccountability.com and at Common Good Vermont’s web hub: www.CommonGoodVT.org. Mark Friedman will be coming to Vermont on April 8th and 9th 2014 for two large scale RBA trainings. Check at Benchmarks for a Better Vermont (http://bbvt.marlboro.edu/) for more details and to register.

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