Over the past couple of months part of my blogging has focused on discussing collective impact. United Way of the Greater Triangle is exploring this model as a means of tackling poverty. I’ve discussed the importance of a common cause and trust building among diverse groups as two essential components in building a common agenda. However, if we are to have a common agenda, we also need to have a common way of evaluating success and develop a shared measurement system. Luckily, throughout the Triangle there are some examples of those measurement systems already being put into place. One of the strongest local examples is the development of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).
HMIS was a mandate from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development back in 2001. This mandate, which was originally unfunded, required communities that receive federal funding to have a management information system that provided an accurate count of the homeless people in the local community. Counting homeless people is difficult for many reasons, with the simplest explanation being that they can be difficult to find. However, it makes sense that communities receiving federal funds should have some mechanism of accountability to ensure that those funds are effectively being used.
Since that time the Triangle has made tremendous strides to implement an HMIS system. Actually, the state of North Carolina has built the infrastructure enabling agencies across the region to participate in a statewide system that enables agencies across the Triangle to count the number of people they serve. Carolina Homeless Information Network (CHIN) is up and running well in the local community. It enables us to get basic demographic information on those who enter homeless shelters and transitional housing programs, it can keep track of the services they received and where they go when they exit from a program. One of the key next steps is to adjust the data elements in such a way as to really track the outcomes we want to see in the near future.
OK! I know. I’m verging on too much geeky information and you’re asking yourself, “Why is he telling me all this?”
I’m telling you this because so much of the time when building shared measurement systems comes up in planning discussions, we become mired down in the details. What system are we going to use to track information? How much will it cost? Who will do it? Those questions are answered and we have a tremendous resource available to help us gather information about those who are unstably housed in this community. All we have to do is agree upon what we will be measuring and ask the system to measure it. Of course, that may be easier said than done.