Abe Wandersman, Ph.D., spent many years as a program evaluator of well-funded social service projects that were supposed to help curb drug use among young people.
The problem, said Wandersman, was that even though various coalitions were spending millions of dollars on program funding, “I wasn’t seeing much happening.”
“The funders were disappointed, the community was disappointed, and I was disappointed,” said Wandersman, professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina. “So I asked myself what would it take—what would coalitions have to do to reach outcomes?”
Wandersman’s experiences inspired him to develop a 10-step accountability program called Getting to Outcomes (GTO), an approach he co-founded to help social service agencies and practitioners evaluate their own programs in order to achieve results. The 10-step program starts with a needs and goals assessment and ends with an analysis of the program’s potential sustainability beyond receiving funding. It has been adopted by both federal and private agencies.
“There is a shift away from measuring results in service units, or outputs,” said Wandersman, who led a workshop on April 26 sponsored by Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service (GSS). “For many years, practitioners have been accountable for things like how many families they saw in a month. But one could have doubled the number of people they serve and not made any difference.”
Today, Wandersman said, both social work practitioners and their funding sources are measuring a program’s effectiveness through objectives achieved, or outcomes.
“Now, especially, with the tighter economic times, people want to know that their funding to a social service agency is making a difference,” Wandersman said.
The workshop attracted more than 30 professionals from 25 community-based organizations in the New York City area.
“Outcomes are incredibly important, and it’s an issue that we are still struggling with in the field,” said Martha Sullivan, D.S.W., executive director of the Fordham Tremont Community Mental Health Center in the Bronx. “Those of us providing human services must be able to speak to what difference we are really making in quantifiable terms, and many of us have not been trained to do that.”
Held on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, the workshop also attracted two-dozen Fordham faculty members.
“Our mission as a school is to serve our community,” said Chaya S. Piotrkowski Ph.D., professor of social work and the director of research at GSS. “This workshop offers a chance to forge stronger partnerships between faculty and social service organizations.”
Piotrkowski added that Wandersman’s program was a perfect fit for GSS because it offers a systematic, empirically-based approach, and because it is based on empowerment evaluation, which includes a commitment to democratic community participation and social justice.
“We all have a common interest, which is making good things happen for communities,” Piotrkowski said.