Category Archives: Software selection

Software options for understanding outcomes

 "Understanding Software for Program Evaluation" book cover

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was possible to dump a bunch of figures about your organisation’s work into a clever system, push compute and then be told what outcomes you’ve achieved.

From what I’ve learnt, it just doesn’t work like that.

In a recent report by the every reliable Idealware on “Understanding Software for Program Evaluation”, the authors make this caveat early on: working what you’re achieving is not about the tools.

“…software is not a requirement for a successful [outcomes reporting] strategy, merely a way to make your process easier, and many organizations complete them with little to no technology to assist them. That’s entirely up to you.”

Most of the tools they describe in rich detail don’t stand alone. Typically using software for reporting relies on more than one layer of software. This could include using a core database, surveys for specific activities and some means for presenting this attractively.

A set of five categories are included to describe the different ways software can support program evaluation:

  • Central Hub of Program Data
  • Auxiliary Data Systems
  • Proactive Data Gathering
  • Pulling Existing Data
  • Reporting and Visualizing.

The report offers something of a pick ‘n mix approach that can helps organisations grasp the full range of options.

As with other reports from our distant colleagues not all the software described is available in Aotearoa. Even if the internet does allow us to theoretically download anything that’s available, it won’t necessarily fit here without adaption. The reported $500,000 cost of customising Penelope – case management software from Canada – funded by Te Puni Kōkiri is a case in point.

And there software options available in New Zealand that are not listed. Benecura, DoView and Whānau Tahi Navigator are some of the homegrown tools available.

Exploring what tools will help a specific organisation determine what’s working (as the team at Community Research like to describe this challenge) can only start after an organisation is clear on what they’re setting out to achieve.

So if there is no killer app, the where to start. At risk of pre-empting more detailed work in this area that is relevant to Aotearoa (watch this space), I’ll point to what I think is a useful guide from the well-established charity evaluation services (CES).

CES’s 2007 workbook “Using ICT to Improve your Monitoring and Evaluation” is still relevant, technology continues to stand still so it’s already somewhat dated.

Instead I’d suggest looking at “Assessing change: Developing and using outcomes monitoring tools” (2010) which places in the role of technology in a wider content. As much effort is paid to framing questions around outcomes as it is to tools.

Not surprisingly there isn’t an easy option: some tool that will collect data and export results. Fortunately, there is lots of good help.

Software up for grabs

Over a year down the track it’s good to news to hear the TechSoup New Zealand programme racking up a substantial number of software donations.

At a function at Te Papa last night jointly hosted by TechSoup New Zealand’s local partner, NZFVWO, Barnardos and Microsoft, there was a fair bit of hoopla about the volume of donations. Some 288 organsations (subject to fact checking) have received donated software since the programme started in July 2008.

The main focus of the cocktail function was on a big donation by Microsoft to Barnardos.

Murray Etheridge, Barnardos CEO, was radiantly postive as he acknowledged the $1.4 million donation. The gift comprises software, along with technical support and I think someone mentioned cash as well. Whether this is a one-off or an example of a new partnering drive by the multinational software giant wasn’t mentioned.

Four other organsations which have substantially benefited from the TechSoup New Zealand programme were highlighted in a short video.

One of these is the Mangere East Family Service Centre. I first met the Centre’s director Peter Sykes when we were both studying social policy at Massey University.

He says the software donation means “for the first time in 15 years all our computers can talk to each other with common operating system”. Peter wants technology to be ubiquitous and essentially invisible to his staff so they can focus on doing the stuff they need to, which means talking with people. In the past, staff have spent be frustrated and distracted by computers getting in the way, rather than supporting their work.

Despite being an ideal time to alert people to an expansion of the range of software products available through TechSoup New Zealand, there was no mention of any forthcoming sources of software donations. I’ve since learned some other suppliers of software will soon be added to the list.

While Prime Minister John Key only talked about the corporate side of things, NZFVWO’s Tina Reid really emphasised the spirit of partnership and community building that sits behind TechSoup New Zealand. In it’s first year it’s off to a great start, with more to come.

BTW: Tech savvy John Key hasn’t yet shared his speech notes (perhaps because he realised after talking he made a slight ommission – he blatantly avoided any references to co-hosts NZFVWO) nor issued a tweet to his 5,982 followers (see JohnKeyPM).