Performance Measurement vs Impact Evaluation

Bridgespan’s e-newsletter pointed me to an article in the Nonprofit Times on performance measurement. It starts by saying that we often treat performance measurement like a math test, looking to see if we got the right or wrong answer, when we should be treating it like an essay, with multiple drafts each working toward improvement. As the authors say,

the primary question is not “‘are we doing it right?”, but rather “is this useful?”

The article goes on to discuss the difference between performance measurement (a managerial tool for continuous improvement) and impact evaluation (an effectiveness tool most often used by external funders):

Evaluation grows out of social science, an academic discipline with peer-reviewed methodologies. Specifically, impact evaluation often seeks to attribute causation (e.g., ‘did this specific program cause that outcome?’), and often is intended for an audience beyond the nonprofit program being evaluated (policy-makers, funders, academics, practitioners more broadly).  Impact evaluations tend to make more sense for well-established program models, not experiments and start-ups.


Performance Measurement, in contrast, is a management discipline, closely related to continuous improvement and organizational learning. It seeks rapid, incremental improvements in programs and their execution, and thereby outcomes for participants.

The article goes on to list some examples of the types of performance measurement, and some concrete steps for moving forward (including logic models development and a pilot evaluation process). The tools themselves were familiar to me, but the framing was not and I found it powerful. I particularly liked the closing sentence, “performance measurement implies a burden of action—not a burden of proof—to learn and improve.”

The article mentioned a couple of additional resources that look at performance measurement and impact evaluation:  “Measurement as Learning,” by Jeri Eckhart-Queenan and Matt Forti and Working Hard & Working Well by David Hunter. The latter is listed as a companion to Mario Morino’s Leap of Reason, which has been sitting on my office bookshelf unread for too long.


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