Technology allows for Innovation and Impact at Horizons
Innovation is one of Horizons for Homeless Children’s core values. But what does that mean? We ask “what would it take?” – when a challenge presents, as a team we adjust and we adapt; we figure it out. For years, capturing data about our operations and particularly, keeping it organized, regular, and reliable was a challenge.
“We knew anecdotally the challenges children and families we serve were facing, but it was hard to pinpoint the numbers, to see trends and to understand how changes in our work could affect outcomes,” shared Kate Barrand, Horizons’ CEO. “Without data, we couldn’t learn and so that prompted us to think about technology solutions that would facilitate better decision making.” In the last year, Horizons has made great strides in this area thanks to the generous support of an anonymous Foundation.
The first step was to assess what were the key metrics and factors we needed to measure consistently. Once identified, we needed a user-friendly platform where our team, most of whom were not technology experts, could input data easily. Next, we needed a platform that was flexible enough to adjust so that as our needs evolved, so could our data capture and analysis capabilities. We needed a solution that was secure and last, we needed a few skilled people who could help us set it up and then maintain, analyze and report on the data as it was collected.
After considering a few options, Quickbase was chosen as the solution provider. The solution was highly customizable, required little-to-no code, and was easy to learn and administer for non-developers.
Over the course of several months, the leadership team agreed on key performance indicators and who was responsible for them. Processes were reworked and standardized so that data about children and families served were now inputted by multiple contributors and then analyzed. Monthly review meetings allowed Horizons’ leadership team to have consistent visibility into trends. Regular reporting made it easier to quantify impact for donors and key stakeholders outside the organization.
“Innovation can be stifled in the resource-constrained non-profit world,” said Chief of Staff, Brendan Fogarty. “By extending what we were already doing and leveraging our in-house Data Operations and Analysis Manager as the single point of coordination, we could begin to change the culture internally about the value and usage of data. Today we have a better knowledge base from which to make operational decisions.”
Data tracking and analysis is now integrated and crosses all of Horizons’ programs. For example, the Early Education Center is using centralized database capabilities to track student attendance patterns to identify when parents might need additional engagement. The Family Partnerships Program team is capturing statistics related to parent successes like goal setting and completion. The Playspace team collects volunteer applications through the same system. Other administrative teams are using the platform to understand more subtle aspects of the organization, for example, utilization of our food program and opportunities to optimize program revenue.
“Our new technology implementation has allowed us to create new value as an organization. We’re now able to look within our programs and see where we’re getting traction. Seeing a reliable picture of our work gives us the ability to learn, evolve and try again,” shared Kate. “Our community needs us to do this work – and do it well- to have the greatest impact on the children and families we’re serving.”