About six months ago Public Library Association (PLA) initiated a service called Project Outcome, that I have been following with interest. An article entitled “Project Outcome – Looking Back, Looking Forward” by Carolyn Anthony, director of the Skokie Public Library, IL was recently published in Public Libraries Online that describes the successes of libraries using this service over the past 6 months.
Project Outcome is an online resource that provides evaluation tools that are designed to measure the impact of library programs and services, such as summer reading program or career development programming. It also provides ready-made reports and data dashboards that can be used to give libraries and stakeholders immediate data on their programs’ outcomes. And Project Outcome provides support and peer sharing opportunities to address common challenges and increase capacity for outcomes evaluation.
Here are some of the things that make me the most excited about this service:
- Project Outcome has managed to create a structured approach for program outcome evaluation that can be used online by public libraries of all shapes and sizes by people who have not done outcome evaluation before. Along with tools for collecting data, the resource has tutorials and support for libraries doing outcomes evaluation for the first time.
- Continued support and peer sharing as an integral part of the service means that PLA is building a community of librarians who use outcome evaluation.
- The stories that are shared by the peers as described in the article will increase the understanding that evaluation isn’t something forced on you from outside, but can be something that helps you to create a better library and enhance the meaning of your library’s programs.
- This process teaches librarians to start with the evaluation question (“decide what you want to learn about outcomes in your community”) and a plan for what to do with the findings. And the process ends with successfully communicating your findings to stakeholders and implementing next steps.
- Lastly, I love that Project Outcome and the PLA Performance Measurement Task Force are planning the next iteration of their project that will measure whether program participants followed through with their intended outcomes. It will be very interesting to find out how this long term outcome evaluation comes out.
I’ll end with this statement from Carolyn Anthony, who said “the opportunity to spark internal conversations and shift the way libraries think about their programs and services is what outcome measurement is all about.”