by Jason Rubin
Every program evaluation project I have ever worked on has some technology component — to manage data, perform analysis, or report on results. But depending on the project, that has meant everything from spreadsheets to custom-built SQL databases with web interfaces, and a lot of systems in between. More recently, I have been exploring Salesforce’s capacity to be the technology component for evaluation projects. Salesforce can definitely be a powerful tool that can enable an effectively implemented evaluation. However, there are ways to use Salesforce for program evaluation successfully, and some pitfalls to avoid. But first, I need talk about what Salesforce cannot do in the realm of performance monitoring and program evaluation. This requires a bit of terminology.
What is the Difference Between Performance Monitoring and Program Evaluation — And Why Does it Matter?
Performance monitoring is the regular tracking of program outputs against specific targets. Organizations monitor performance to track progress towards a goal. So if your goal was to distribute 10,000 mosquito nets, you would keep track of how many mosquito nets you’d distributed at any given time. In comparison, program evaluation is the application of social science research methods to determine the outcomes and impacts of an intervention. The goal here is to determine what happened as a result of your program, and if possible, prove cause and effect using statistical methods. For, what was the effect on public health (malaria prevalence, etc) of distributing those mosquito nets? Monitoring and evaluation often go hand-in-hand, but they also employ quite different methodologies.
This is important when thinking about using Salesforce for monitoring and evaluation because Salesforce is going to be much better at monitoring than evaluation. For example, if you want to track mosquito net distribution and compare that to goals, Salesforce will be a very powerful tool. You can even take it a step further and track hospital visits due to malaria in the same areas where you are distributing nets. But if you are trying to use Salesforce to correlate number of mosquito nets and malaria prevalence, you are going to run into some issues.
Keeping that in mind, Salesforce can be very effective at enabling performance monitoring, allowing your organization to know, in real time, exactly where you stand versus where you want to be.
Here are a Few Things to Consider if You are Thinking About Using Salesforce to Monitor Program Performance:
Focus on your indicators
The evaluator’s golden rule is just because you can collect the information doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Collecting too much data can make your data collection efforts more time consuming than they need to be and can similarly make your Salesforce instance less user friendly by clogging record layouts with unnecessary fields.
Salesforce is a tool that can help your organization use program outcome data to manage to your mission. If you are collecting and reporting on data that is not related to your program goals, the data can wind up leading you away from your program’s goals. So build your objects, fields, formulas, reports, and dashboards around the data that shows your organization’s outcomes and impact.
Map out the entire system before building it — all the way from data collection to reporting
This generally goes for any Salesforce build-out: design the system before you build it to make sure you understand the flow of information from entry to reporting. Using Salesforce for performance monitoring is really a matter of using functionality that already exists within Salesforce and 3rd party applications and getting the configuration right. As with many Salesforce builds, you might think about the reports first and work backwards from there. In the case of performance management, consider the data points you want and how you want them displayed in reports and dashboards. Making that your ultimate goal will ensure that your objects, fields, and relationships will generate the reporting that you need.
Formula fields are your friend
Formula fields are going to be very useful in displaying data such as sums, averages, and percentages. But they are even friendlier when you build them on your objects, as opposed to on the fly in your reports. Building them in your reports means that you’ll have to recreate that formula for each new report. By putting your formula fields on the objects, you only have to create them once.
Before going mobile, consider the end user
Data collection through mobile devices that are integrated with your Salesforce instance is an evaluator’s dream come true. No more pencil and paper surveys, no more manual data entry. However, developing effective mobile applications can be tricky and as a best practice, always consider the experience of the person collecting that data. Is there internet connectivity? Are there security concerns in the area where they are working? Is the interface user-friendly for a mobile device? A well-designed mobile data collection system can make everyone’s job easier. A poorly designed one will guarantee incomplete data.
Get your theory of change and indicators right before starting
Last but certainly not least, before even thinking about what technology to use in your performance monitoring and program evaluation, it is important (possibly more important than anything else you do) to understand your organization’s mission, goals, how you are going to achieve those goals, and how you are going to measure if you have accomplished what you set out to do. Salesforce is a powerful tool for managing data, streamlining evaluation processes, and providing real-time analytics, but it cannot design and implement an effective evaluation for you. For that, you need careful thought, planning, and strategy. Don’t skip this step.
Jason is an Evaluation Specialist with Mission Edge San Diego, helping non-profits become data-driven organizations by implementing data management solutions and using that data to monitor performance and conduct outcome and impact evaluations. Prior to joining Mission Edge, Jason worked as an evaluation and data management specialist for more than 4 years on U.S. government funded aid projects. He has worked on projects in more than 100 countries and performed field work in Hungary, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.