Every year hundreds of thousands of nonprofits spend a significant amount of time and money strengthening their leadership, management, fundraising, learning systems, governance and day-to-day operations.  Capacity building efforts can take the form of planning, professional development, consulting, coaching, technical assistance, and technology, to name a few. Everyone believes in the value of capacity building, as evidenced by the billions of dollars spent by the sector each year. And, there are many anecdotes, stories and cases of success, as well as a number of sound evaluation studies of capacity building initiatives that indicate improved nonprofit effectiveness.

That said, with so much time and money being spent on capacity building, we need to move beyond “indicating” that it works, to actually proving so, including with which organizations, when and how. For this, there’s no way around it, we need a representative sample of nonprofits everywhere, all sharing comparable data over time, capturing their capacity building data right alongside their organizational effectiveness data. As is the case for any cause-and-effect study, we can only determine what works if both the intervention (i.e., cause) and outcome (i.e., effect) data sit together in the same dataset. To date, this would be a huge if not impossible lift, costing a heck of lot of time and money to pay for experts, researchers, and the engagement of capacity builders and nonprofits everywhere. But, in our tech-enhanced big data world, this heavy lift is no longer necessary!

A Better, Faster, More Cost-Effective Way to Generate Large Amounts of Capacity Building Data

Over the past few years I have been engaged by government and nonprofit agencies in the fields of juvenile justice, adult criminal justice, and child welfare to build predictive and prescriptive models using existing data and machine learning algorithms. The goal was to help these agencies and organizations more accurately determine the likelihood of an outcome using existing assessment data gathered by frontline workers, as well as to determine which interventions will work best for each case. In these projects, I was very excited to be working with such a large amount of connected intervention and outcome data that were gathered over a relatively short period of time – for example, I had access to intervention and outcome data for almost 100,000 juvenile justice cases for the entire State of Florida, that were gathered over a few short years. I’m not saying the data were perfect by any stretch, and it took a lot to get it in good shape, but the amount of cause-and-effect data far surpassed any data I had ever had my hands on during my 20+ years as an evaluator.

So, how did these agencies produce so much useful cause-and-effect data in a relatively short period of time? The answer: the data were a by-product of an assessment process and tool that frontline workers depended on to carry out their work. Specifically, frontline workers weren’t charged with gathering data to meet the long-term needs of an outside study or evaluation, but rather to meet their own immediate need to understand a case’s history, determine their likelihood for success, and develop an intervention plan to achieve a positive outcome. These assessment and planning tools also didn’t require frontline workers to become data analysts; often it was a software program that did it for them, staying rigorously true to the research and statistical models that made the answers valid and reliable. The bottom line is that much bigger data get generated not by complex, carefully controlled long-term research and/or evaluation studies, but rather when those on the front lines of social change need and can use data-driven insights about the case in front of them. In fact, the entire world of big data is being made possible not through research studies, but rather by using the cause-and-effect data trail we all leave when we exchange information to meet a real, tangible and immediate need, whether its at the point of purchase for a product or service, virtually sharing about ourselves with others in our lives, or using any other technology-based tool for exchanging information for some benefit.

How to Quickly Generate Bigger Data Insights About Capacity Building

Here’s a quick how-to for rapidly generating bigger data insights about nonprofit capacity building:

Provide a research-based assessment and decision-making tool to capacity building “frontline workers.” This tool must first and foremost meet each individual consultant’s, capacity builder’s and/or grantmaker’s need to assess a nonprofit’s state of effectiveness, as well as gain accurate, data-driven insights that help to inform what types of capacity building to support next. And, it is critical that this tool meet these needs credibly, in real-time, and on a case-by-case basis. When tools are valuable to those on the front lines, they are motivated to use it, resulting in more data, quickly.

Provide a data-driven dashboard that capacity building leaders can use to learn about and expand their impact. When an assessment and planning tool is used by frontline workers, the data they gather can get rolled up and shared via an on-demand dashboard of findings and insights. Leaders of capacity building organizations, including funders, can now evaluate and view their outcomes, in real-time; use their findings and insights to gain research and development feedback; and manage the day-to-day performance of their capacity building programs. When leaders use data-driven insights to drive their learning and planning, they not only buy-in to gathering data, they demand it.

Create a way for everyone in the business of generating income from their capacity building services to generate even more. For most capacity builders, frontline decision-making tools and big picture findings provide plenty of business benefit, on their own. That said, if in the same way that today’s sharing economy businesses like Lyft, AirBnB and Etsy allow any car owner, property owner or maker to earn additional income through the use of a technology application or tool that easily makes their services or products available to consumers, so too can nonprofit capacity builders. Specifically, a technology-based assessment tool can enable any capacity builder to sell the tool and their assessment process directly to nonprofits to generate income, and/or as an added value incentive for a nonprofit to purchase other services. This business benefit again encourages more data collection.

Contribute to a Bigger Data Movement by Becoming an iCAT Partner

At Algorhythm we build bigger data assessment, evaluation and planning tools for many fields of practice, including capacity building. In fact, we have built an organizational and assessment tool for consultants, capacity builders, funders and other intermediaries that meets all of the needs I’ve just presented, including for the first time ever combining organizational effectiveness data and capacity building intervention data within one dataset. We call it the impact Capacity Assessment Tool, or iCAT for short. You can learn about and view a demonstration of the tool, dashboard and technology by clicking here to watch a short video. Additionally, you can visit our iCAT website for more information by clicking here.

Any intermediary that supports nonprofit capacity building can meet their frontline and big picture assessment, planning and evaluation needs while contributing to a record-setting bigger data effort to advance the entire field’s knowledge and understanding of capacity building. Any capacity builder can try on the iCAT tool and dashboard for size with up to two nonprofits for as little as $75 per organization if you sign up by April 15, 2016. We have other plans, including one where capacity builders can wholesale purchase the iCAT for as little as $40 per nonprofit, and then retail sell the assessment at a much higher price in order to generate income. Algorhythm will not directly sell the iCAT to nonprofit organizations; it can only be purchased, serviced and/or used through our iCAT Partners.

Algorhythm does not want to be in the business of thought leading on the data and findings that are generated by its tools. As such, we seek business partnerships with select organizations that can provide thought leadership for a field of practice. If you are or know of a key thought leading organization in the capacity building space, and would like to learn more about our partnership model, reach out at info@algorhythm.io.