Friday, December 16, 2011

Outcomes not Outputs

"The information provided on this web site tells you how the state performs in areas that affect you and your family. The dashboard...can be used to view Michigan's performance and how it compares with other states."

I've been reading about the Governor's interest in outcomes vs. outputs, and I think it is a wonderful lesson for libraries to take.  We could use this dashboard-type model to:

-Compare our individual library's services to state benchmarks.  In Michigan, we could use QSAC (Quality Services Audit Checklist) for those benchmarks.

-Track strategic plan progress.  Libraries with strategic plans could use a dashboard to compare where they were to where they are headed, and show how much work needs to be done to get there.

-Tie library services into this state dashboard to let people know how/what their libraries (or the state library) are doing compared to other state services.  The Library of Michigan is now under the Department of Education, so maybe library services could be compared to other MDE agencies - value for the dollar, quality of life, etc.

Libraries are pretty good about gathering data.  We keep track of all kinds of things.  However, we can continue improving upon reporting what it all means.  That is, the outcomes rather than the outputs.  (Data = outputs.)  It's wonderful to say that librarians answered 50,000 reference questions this year, but what is the outcome?  The outcome is that library staff were able to share their expertise 50,000 times and help tens of thousands of people find answers and jobs, save time, and do better research.  

Even better than that, though, are stories.  Who cares if 50,000 people got answers?  It's the few really poignant stories that people relate to.  It is the single mother who was laid off from her job and got a new one after attending a job fair at the library.  It is the child who was struggling in school, and reached grade-level after working with a tutor at the library.  It is the senior citizen who got a librarian to help him navigate Medicare Part D.  

I love the idea of a dashboard that makes our outputs very transparent.  It would be great to compare libraries to other agencies and to other libraries in one place, rather than in a variety of reports (state aid reports, library annual reports, QSAC reports, monthly Library Board reports...).  Even better, though, would be a dashboard that includes both the outputs and the outcomes.

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