1. Baselines have two parts: a historical part which shows where we’ve been, and a forecast part that shows where we are headed if we stay on our current course.
2. The historical part should have as much data as you can get. Aim for three to five years. If you have no historical data, then start the baseline where you are and build the history part over time.
3. Build one or more forecast scenarios using partners knowledgeable about causes and forces at work. Use statistical techniques as a tool not an answer. See the long form and short form techniques below for creating a forecast.
The Full Answer
What Are Baselines?
A baseline is a multi-year display of data with two parts: a historical part which shows where we’ve been, and a forecast part that shows where we are headed if we stay on our current course. Baselines allow us to define success as doing better than the baseline or “turning the curve.” Adding a comparison baseline from a different location or program can also be helpful in creating your baseline.
Baselines Serve Two Purposes
First they allow us to ask and answer the question: AIs this future OK? If the percentage of 3rd graders reading at grade level has been declining for several years, is it OK for it to continue to decline? Look where we’ll be in two years if this continues! Most processes of serious change start with the members of the community saying “This is NOT OK”. We can do better. Baselines with forecasts allow you to have this discussion.
Second, baselines allow us to assess progress in terms of doing better than the baseline. This allows us to count as progress when we have slowed the rate at which things are getting worse, before we fully turn around and go in the right direction. This stands in contrast to the usual definition of success: that things get better right away. This is often unrealistic when trends have been headed in the wrong direction for a long time. It takes time to turn the curve on such a trend line. If we do not use baselines to measure success, we set ourselves up for failure by creating unrealistic expectations of quick fixes.
The box below displays the history part of a sample baseline prepared for the training sessions for Prop 10 commissioners sponsored by the State Commission, the California Endowment and the Foundation Consortium….