Five young people jumping with a refresh symbol in front of them.

Results-Based Accountability: A Refresher

Author: Don Matteson

About eight years ago, we shared a blog post outlining our approach to Results-Based Accountability (RBA) as a tool for evaluating our grants’ effectiveness. With the benefit of a few more years of working with and thinking about RBA, a refreshed introduction seemed to be in order. Beyond that, we’re now seeing how we can use RBA to put grant projects in a broader context and do more than just look at whether the individual projects have been effective. Last time we wrote about this, it was one long and abstract post. This time around, we’ll aim to be more concrete and cover RBA in several bite-sized chunks.

What is RBA Again?

RBA is designed to be an action-oriented approach to improving conditions in a community. It’s built on being crystal clear about who’s intended to benefit from some body of work, and the condition or conditions of well-being you’re working with them to achieve. RBA offers a set of five plain-language questions that helps everyone doing the work stay on the same page. We’ll get to the process part in future posts, but for now we’ll start with the basics: identifying who’s supposed to benefit from the work, and the conditions of well-being you’re working together to achieve.

How does RBA Work?

Overall, RBA has us look at communities in terms of populations and programs. Populations are entire groups of people in a community that we’re hoping will achieve some desired state of well-being. Programs are the efforts and initiatives that we deploy to help move the population towards that state of well-being. Populations can be very general (e.g., all residents in a community) or very specific (e.g., cat-owners in the hamlet of Bethpage, NY).

For instance, the Tower Foundation makes grants in, among other places, Erie and Niagara Counties in New York State. One specific group of people the Foundation hopes to benefit in these counties is young people with learning disabilities. Put those together, and one population we’re trying to benefit is. “young people with learning disabilities in Erie and Niagara Counties.”

Super. What condition of well-being are we trying to achieve for this population? What are our goals (sometimes called result statements)? The Foundation has several goals, one of which is that, “Communities value persons with learning disabilities and accommodate their needs.” Now we have clarity about the people we’re focused on working with and a specific condition of well-being that we’re trying to promote. Next, we can start thinking through the strategies we might use and the partners we might collaborate with to move towards this condition of well-being (i.e., the programs). We’ll look at programs in a few posts.

That brings us to the first of RBA’s five questions: “How are we doing?” To answer that question, we need to have ways of measuring the community’s performance on the goals we’re pursuing. These community-wide measures are called population indicators. We’ll get into greater depth on population indicators in a subsequent post, but if you’d like to see some of the things we’re paying attention to, take a look at the TowerDATA section of our website.

One more note on RBA

It’s incredibly important to do this work with people, not to or for them. In broad strokes, philanthropy — the Tower Foundation included — historically has tended to impose its, “better judgment” on people and communities without listening to, or even asking, those people or communities what they want or need. Done well, RBA gives beneficiaries an equal — or better, elevated — seat at the table. If we’ve learned anything from our past eight years of RBA work, it’s that we didn’t include enough community voice in developing our goals nearly a decade ago. We plan to revisit our goals/result statements again soon, and will be putting community voice at the center of what we’re trying to do.