2.1 What are the basic ideas of results-based decision making and budgeting?

The Short Answer

1. Start with ends and work backward to means.

2. Use data to drive decisions, not just measure success or failure after the fact.

3. Results are desired conditions of well-being, the ends we want, for children, adults families and communities

4. Improving results means getting from talk to action. And getting from talk to action means following a disciplined thinking process:

Results : What conditions of well-being (results) do we want for children, adults families and communities, stated in plain language?

Experience: How do we experience these results in our everyday lives?

Indicators: How could we recognize these conditions in measurable terms?

Baselines: Where have we been and where are we headed on the indicators?

Story behind the Baselines: Why do these the indicator baselines look the way they do? What are the causes?

Partners: Who are the potential partners who have a role to play in doing better?
What works strategy: What works? What do we think it will take to do better?

Action Plan and Budget: What do we propose to actually do?

Full Answer

Results based decision-making starts with the end conditions of well-being (results) we want for children, adults families and communities, and works backward to the means to get there.

There is in fact a simple progression of thought at the heart of this process:

(1)  What do we want?

(2) How will we recognize it?

(3) What will it take to get there?


Population: Results-Based Accountability starts with a whole population. This can be all children in a state, county or city; all elders in a state, county or city. Or it can be a population in a smaller geographic area (all children in the Fairfield neighborhood). Or it can be a subpopulation (e.g. all children 0 to 5; or all disabled children in the county). (Note Prop 10 population is all children, prenatal to age 5 who live in the county. It also includes, by extension, all the families in which these children live, or are about to be born. This is important because many of the things which will work to improve the health and school readiness of children involve helping their families, and in particular, their parents, be successful. So Prop 10 is about the well-being of the population of all children and their families. )

Results: Results are conditions of well-being we would like to say exist for this population. These conditions are stated in plain English (plain Spanish, plain Vietnamese, plain Farsi…) not bureaucratic jargon. Examples of results statements include: “all children born healthy; all children healthy and ready for school (Prop 10); all children succeeding in school; all youth making smart choices; all youth becoming happy productive contributing adults;  stable and self sufficient families; self sufficient elders living in setting of their own choice.”There are many possible results statements for any given population.  (The Prop 10 legislation includes the results: Achildren enter school in good health, ready and able to learn, and emotionally well developed.@[1] This is a statement that the public can understand, that can be used to communicate the basic purpose of Prop 10 and anchor this work. There are of course many other results for children and families which are important, e.g.  all children safe, all children succeeding in school, strong and self sufficient families. Prop10, if successful, will also make a contribution to these other results.)


The next two questions have to do with how we would recognize these conditions if we fell over them, first in terms of experience and then in terms of data.

Experience: How would we recognize these results in our day to day lives in the community? What would we see, hear, feel, observe? e.g. We would see children playing outside. We would hear young children with good communication skills. We would feel that children were respected and loved in our community.

Indicators: How would we recognize these conditions in measurable terms. Here we are looking for pieces of data that tell us whether these conditions exist or not. If the condition is child health, we might look at the rate of low birth-weight babies, or the rate of emergency room accidents. If the result is L children succeeding in school@ we might look at the percent of children reading at grade level or graduating from high school. Some of this data we currently have and can use today in the planning process. Other data, which we would like to have, becomes part of our data development agenda.

Baselines : For each indicator, we present a picture of where we’ve been and where we’re headed if we stay on our current course. These pictures are called baselines. They allow us to define success as doing better than the baseline.


Story behind the baselines: Why do these baseline pictures look the way they do? What are the causes and forces at work? This is the epidemiology part of the work. Digging behind the pictures helps us get a handle on what=s going on in our community and what  might work to do better. As we do this work we bump up against things we wish we knew more about. This becomes part of our information/research agenda. We= ll gather this information as best we can between meetings.

Partners : Who are the potential partners (people and agencies, public and private) who have a role to play in doing better?

What works : What do we think would work? What would it take to do better than the baselines in this community? What has worked in other places outside our community? What does the research tell us? Just importantly, what does our own personal experience tell us about what would work here? The answers should draw on the possible contributions of partners; and should involve no-cost and low-cost ideas.

Criteria : If we come up with a long list of things that might work, how do we choose what to actually do? What criteria should guide this selection process? Some criteria to think about include: specificity (Is the idea about specific action not rhetoric?), leverage (Will it make a big or little difference?), values (Is it consistent with our personal and community values?), and reach (Is it feasible to do it this year, next year or 3 to 10 years?).

Action plan and budget : What do we propose to actually do? This should take the form of a multi-year action plan laying out what is to be accomplished by when (goals and objectives). We can then assign responsibilities and get started. Once you decide on things to be done, projects, programs, no-cost and low-cost actions etc. you can use performance measures to track their progress.

This does not have to take forever. You can take a pass at this thinking process in an hour or so. And then go through it again each time you get together. Every time you iterate this process, your action plan gets better.

The Results-Based Accountability section of this paper is organized around this thinking process.

Marc2.1 What are the basic ideas of results-based decision making and budgeting?