Purpose: To provide hands on experience with results-based decision making by allowing a group to work on actually turning the curve on a specific indicator of child, adult, family or community well-being.

1. Large Group Work

Results and Indicators: Choose the starting point for the exercise from the 3 options below. Option 1 is recommended for groups which have some experience with developing results and indicators. Option 2 is recommended for groups who need to practice choosing indicators. Option 3 is for groups at the very beginning of thinking about the well-being of a particular population. (Options 2 and 3 are given at the end.)

Option #1 (Given set of results and indicators): Let’s pretend that the we have an adopted list of results and indicators for children and families (or another population e.g. elders). We will pretend that (the working list in the results-based decision making package, or a list from another state) is our adopted list.

An indicator curve to turn: Choose an indicator that is particularly important right now (where the future trend line is “not OK”). If possible, present a baseline of actual data for this indicator. If a baseline has not been prepared, then create a working baseline for purposes of the exercise, by asking the following questions: Where are we now? Have things been getting better or worse over the last few years? Has it been getting (better or worse) fast or slow (steepness of baseline)? Where do you think it will go in the next several years if we stay on our current course (i.e. keep doing the same things we’re doing now)?

Partners: Now we’re going to talk about turning this curve. We know that Results-Based Accountability work involves more than just one agency or department. So let’s talk about who are the partners who have something to contribute to making a difference on this curve? Brain storm list of potential partners (e.g. churches, schools, police, media, businesses, etc.)

2. Small Group Work

Divide people into groups of 6 to 10 (6 is optimal). Have them sit together around tables in a large room, or use breakout rooms if available.

Remind people that they will not have enough time to do this “right.” Remember this is an exercise. Remind people to have fun.

Ask each group to do the following:

Pick a time keeper and a reporter.

Who are you? (5 minutes)

(part 1): Pick what community you represent. You can be the whole state, or a specific county, city or neighborhood in the state.

(part 2): Each person wears two hats: their everyday role, and one role from the list of potential partners. Only one person per role. (Optional: You may ask that at least one person be from an agency of particular importance to the indicator chosen e.g. schools if 3rd grade reading scores; or human services department if rate of child abuse).

The Curve to Turn (5 minutes): Pick a curve to work on. Discuss the baseline and present at least one forecast of the path you are on if nothing changes. Ask yourself “Is this OK?” If the answer is “yes” then pick another curve.

The Story Behind the Curve (15 minutes): What’s going on here? Why does the baseline look the way it does? What are the causes? What are the forces at work? As you try to answer this question keep a side list of things you would like to know more about. This is your information agenda.

What Works to Turn the Curve (20 minutes): What do you think would work in this community to turn this curve? Make sure the discussion gets to what each partner could contribute. Make sure the ideas have sharp edges. Be specific. Make sure at least one idea is a no cost or low cost idea.

Prepare to report (5 minutes): Choose three what works ideas to report. (One should be for the lead agency if one is identified.) At least one reported item should be no cost low cost.


3. Group Reports

Ask each group to report the following:

What place did you choose to be?

(Optional) What are the three most important things going on in the story behind the curve? What are the causes? What information did you want that you didn’t have?

What are your three best ideas about what would work to turn the curve? Be specific! (who would do what, when, where, how) At least one idea must be no cost/low cost.


4. Debriefing the exercise

How many people think that at least one idea from their group could actually be done and would make a difference?

What did you learn from this? (e.g. collaboration vs blame) What was hardest (most frustrating) about this work? Why?

How many people would like to have other opportunities to work in this way?

Think of next steps: What is something I could do? What is something I could ask someone else to do, to advance this work? (Allow each person to think about this for 1 minute, then poll the group, or ask tables to report.)

(Optional) Ask people to speak who took specific partner roles (e.g. what did the school folks have to contribute?) Who else should be in the room for this kind of work? How could you get them to the table?

(Optional) Where did the groups come up with similar ideas? Does this work begin to suggest how these what works elements might be crafted into a real action agenda? (Note: remind people that this first effort is likely to be a Xmas tree, not a coherent strategy.)

Review for the group the group the entire thinking process: results, indicators, baseline, partners, story, what works. Could you do this for real in your community? How many think they could lead this kind of process?


5. Optional Starting Points for Large Group Work

Option #2 (Given a set of results only): Let’s pretend we have an adopted list of results (for children and families, or another defined population). Let’s pick one and develop indicators for it. Brainstorm a list of candidate indicators. Make sure each is a specific data statement (e.g. “rate of full immunizations at age 6”, not “immunizations”). Rate each candidate indicator on three criteria, by asking the questions:

– Communication Power: Does the public understand what we mean when we use this data statement?

– Proxy Power: Does this data say something of central importance about the result we are trying to measure? (Remind people that this choosing process is a matter of approximation and political balance).

– Data Power: Do we have high quality and timely data? (High only if people can go back to their office and open a report with the data in it; Medium if it can be developed relatively quickly; Low otherwise.)

Identify indicators which rate high on all three criteria. These are the headline indicators. One of these will be chosen for the next step in the exercise. Note also those which rate high on communication and proxy, but low on data. These become part of the data development agenda. Continue with the work in option #1.

Option #3 (Given a population only): Results-based decision making is about the well-being of a population across a given geographic area (e.g. state, county, city, community). Such a population can be defined as all the people in the geographic area, or a subpopulation by age (e.g. children or elders) or other condition (e.g. persons with mental illness). The one definition of subpopulation we do not use here is a client population of a particular program, agency or service system. This is the subject of service program performance measurement, a separate, interlocking form of accountability.

Identify results for this population by asking the question: “What do we want for these people?” and also “What do they want for themselves?” The answers are often phrases as “Children (elders…) who are…” (e.g. safe, healthy etc.). We are looking for conditions of well being that will stand up in the public square, that the lay public will understand. This is not yet about data. That comes next when we talk about indicators. And, generally, results statements are not about services. That comes later when we talk about strategies to achieve these conditions of well-being. Services are generally about means, not ends. And results are by definition ends. (See the exception to the rule about the relatively rare times when statements about “receiving needed service” may be the best we can do in articulating results.)

Develop a list of candidate results. This is a brainstorming process, and all ideas are OK, if they meet the “not data” and “ends, not means” tests. The list developed here will often be rough, with overlapping statements. In a non-exercise process, there is time to wordsmith these lists and create a balanced and complete set of results statements.

Choose one result to work on in the exercise and continue with the work in option #2.

MarcTurn the Curve Exercise – Results-Based Accountability