Create Your Three Pillars of Continuous Evidence Building

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you'll be able to:

  • List the three core pillars of Continuous Evidence Building.
  • Explain why each pillar of Continuous Evidence Building is important.
  • Identify goals for evidence collection and use.

The Three Core Pillars of Continuous Evidence Building

Social impact leaders and practitioners collect information (we call that process “evidence building”) to manage and track all kinds of programming and impact goals. As we mentioned in Unit 2, Continuous Evidence Building is a mindset—a set of approaches encouraged and leveraged by leaders and practiced across all levels of an organization.

When it comes to maintaining a continuous culture of evidence building, there are three core pillars to consider: Performance Monitoring, Program Improvement, and Impact Measurement. Let’s take a look at each one.

Performance Monitoring allows you to confirm program delivery by keeping an eye on data, maintaining routine reporting initiatives, considering the insights you gain to make better decisions, and applying those decisions to “change-over-time” assessments. And, you can achieve all that by setting goals, managing program performance, and developing and using dashboards.

Program Improvement is enabled when organizations systematically use data to improve low-risk test-and-learn cycles; isolate concrete, incremental changes; and consider directional learning about program and operations changes. Improvement science, rapid-cycle evaluations, continuous quality improvement, and change management are all areas where learning can take place as an outcome of test-and-learn cycles.

Impact Measurement takes place when you estimate the effects that a specific program has on its participants. Impact evaluation methods, data science, econometrics, and measurement instrument selection are all handy tools in determining impact.

You’ll want to keep a few foundational practices in mind as well. Data interpretation, visualization, policies, and systems (collection, management, analysis, visualization); knowledge management; measurement tools; reporting; strategic evidence planning; and Theory of Change all play significant roles in Continuous Evidence Building as foundational practices. How so? These practices allow you to study the data you’ve collected, to effectively evaluate its value, and to share the takeaways with others at your organization.

Identifying the Most Pressing Evidence Goals

Identifying why evidence building is so important to your own organization is key. After all, what use is data if you don’t have any plans for it? There are a number of different goals that organizations might have for creating and using evidence building. Effectiveness, program improvement, scale, funding, resource allocation, communications, and policy are some of the most common.

Check out the table below to learn more about practical applications of each evidence goal.

Goal for evidence building Sample questions and methods Pillar addressed
How effective is our service delivery? Does it vary by program?
Method: Track participants’ key outcomes for each program and compare across programs.
Performance Monitoring
Program improvement
Are the improvements we made making a difference?
Method: Align participant survey data questions from year to year and compare after implementing improvements.
Program Improvement
How can we determine the best time to scale our efforts?
Method: Review data related to program efficiency and timing to determine seasonal trends.
Impact Measurement
How can we articulate the total cost of program delivery, including evidence-building activities, to existing or prospective funders?
Method: Engage in evidence building and practice Impact Management to attract donors with tangible program results.
Program Improvement
Resource allocation
How can we shift funding, personnel, and other resources toward the most effective and cost-effective programs and services?
Method: Utilize surveys and track finances to determine which areas have underutilized or need additional resources.
Impact Measurement
How can we tell the organization’s story to raise our profile?
Method: Publicly share a commitment to Continuous Evidence Building and initiative results to provide ongoing transparency and increase public awareness of the organization.
Program Improvement
Can we attract strategic public advocates and/or legislative champions?
Method: Provide evidence of successful impact initiatives to demonstrate responsibility and importance to the community.
Performance Monitoring

An organization is likely to have more than one question at a given time, but beginning with a manageable number of goals and questions that matter will point you in the right direction. It will help ensure that metrics, data, and methods are selected purposefully because they match the nature and stakes of the question—not simply because they’re available or expected.

No More Homelessness Case Study

In the case of NMH, they began with a manageable set of Performance Monitoring goals—like tracking the number of individuals they see in a given month. In a second phase, they identified additional evidence-building questions, like “How are our services being put to use and what difference is that making for our clients?” and “Where might we be falling short?”, that drove an expansion of their data collection and analysis. In the end, with additional data and enhanced reporting, NMH leaders were able to use data to make more informed decisions about their ongoing initiatives.


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Source: Trailblazer Community Impact Survey 2019