Tracking and Learning From Program Data

Dos and Don’ts for Public and Nonprofit Human Service Agencies

Posted March 7, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The image depicts an overhead view of a table, which is covered with printouts of colorful graphs and charts. Three people — whose faces we do not see — are pointing toward various points on one of the charts.

Track­ing data and per­for­mance is vital to improv­ing pro­gram­ming for pub­lic agen­cies and non­prof­it human ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions. A new report from the Urban Insti­tute, fund­ed in part by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, pro­vides dozens of prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions to help these orga­ni­za­tions improve how they com­pile and use data to get bet­ter results.

The report, Dos and Don’ts: Tips for Strength­en­ing Your Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Sys­tems, iden­ti­fies 63 dos and don’ts in five facets of per­for­mance man­age­ment: col­lect­ing and ana­lyz­ing per­for­mance data, using per­for­mance find­ings and pre­sent­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing data.

With­out rel­e­vant, time­ly, and rea­son­ably accu­rate per­for­mance infor­ma­tion, pro­gram man­agers will be fly­ing blind,” the report’s authors note. Per­for­mance mea­sure­ment includes iden­ti­fy­ing a program’s mis­sion goals or objec­tives, select­ing per­for­mance indi­ca­tors and iden­ti­fy­ing data col­lec­tion procedures.”

Sug­ges­tions for Man­ag­ing Data in Five Key Areas

Hav­ing the right data — and the abil­i­ty to ana­lyze and talk about those data in real time — is crit­i­cal to help­ing orga­ni­za­tions under­stand and improve what they are doing,” says Ilene Berman, a senior asso­ciate with the Foundation’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group. By engag­ing in reg­u­lar per­for­mance reflec­tion and improve­ment con­ver­sa­tions, orga­ni­za­tions can posi­tion effec­tive pro­grams for greater scale to improve out­comes for more young peo­ple and families.” 

High­lights of the report’s rec­om­men­da­tions include:

Col­lect­ing Data

  • Have orga­ni­za­tion­al lead­ers sig­nal to staff that per­for­mance is a top priority. 
  • Seek input on which mea­sures to track from a range of stake­hold­ers, includ­ing pro­gram participants.
  • Obtain peri­od­ic feed­back from par­tic­i­pants about how well the ser­vice is delivered.

Ana­lyz­ing Data

  • Iden­ti­fy one staff mem­ber to lead data track­ing and analysis.
  • Com­pare pro­gram out­comes bro­ken out by demo­graph­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics, includ­ing race and eth­nic­i­ty, to learn how dif­fer­ent groups of par­tic­i­pants are expe­ri­enc­ing the program.
  • Com­pare per­for­mance results over time to spot trends.
  • Invite pro­gram par­tic­i­pants to sug­gest ser­vice improvements.

Using Per­for­mance Findings

  • Use per­for­mance data inter­nal­ly to learn and improve.
  • Don’t turn per­for­mance pre­sen­ta­tions into a gotcha” exer­cise, which may lead staff to fudge data to avoid penalties.
  • Rec­og­nize team mem­bers — through awards or mon­e­tary rewards — respon­si­ble for strong per­for­mance results.


  • Clear­ly define per­for­mance indi­ca­tors to avoid any con­fu­sion about what is being measured.
  • Don’t hide bad news; instead, iden­ti­fy plans to cor­rect the problem. 
  • Include sto­ries that explain the mean­ing and val­ue of the data being shared. 


  • Devel­op reg­u­lar score­cards on pro­gram per­for­mance and share with staff and pub­lic officials.
  • Ensure pro­gram man­agers have ready access to up-to-date per­for­mance data.

This report is a com­pan­ion to a pre­vi­ous Urban Insti­tute report, Eval­u­a­tion Guide for Pub­lic Ser­vice Pro­gram Man­agers, which pro­vides strate­gies for pub­lic and non­prof­it pro­gram man­agers to strength­en their deci­sion mak­ing using eval­u­a­tion information.

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