Yonge Street Mission (YSM) began serving Toronto in 1896. Since then, they’ve distributed countless meals and provided support to countless families in need.
Today, they offer over 100 programs and services that minister to people of all ages that are experiencing chronic poverty. Their goal is to help every person achieve their full potential.
How can YSM measure all of the good work that takes place in and through their organization?
How can they capture all the results of thousands of hours of volunteer work, counselling services, support groups and medical care? How would they know if they were making a difference? And even more, how would they know if they were doing more harm than good?
YSM wanted answers to these questions and began developing a sophisticated measurement and evaluation system called TIMES.
“TIMES stands for Transformation Integrated Measurement and Evaluation System. It is a way of holistically tracking people and communities' development and progress against their own life or community objectives. The goal in using this tool is to be able to demonstrate and verify actual change as a result of YSM's support of, and engagement with, people and communities,” says Brent Mitchell, Vice President of Programs and Community Development.
“For individuals or families the framework uses 7 primary indicators that represent areas of challenge for people experiencing poverty. These are: Connection, Economic, Education, Environment, Equality, Wellness and Worldview. These then have connected outcomes that are assessed starting from a point in life of great challenge to a life that is increasingly demonstrating positive advances across 5 stages in a specific area.”
Brent says the use of TIMES represents a radical shift from their previous approach of measurement and evaluation which was much more anecdotal. The TIMES method allows caseworkers and individuals to see exactly where they’re moving forward in a given sphere of life, and even in some cases moving backward.
For example, a case worker can accurately track how a community member is doing in terms of connection with others using common measurement indicators. They may start out estranged from others and slowly move toward developing meaningful relationships and a healthy peer group. Alternatively, YSM can track if someone is regressing in this area by becoming more socially isolated.
Many charities and foundations would resonate with the challenges associated with measuring outcomes in a meaningful way. Tracking impact is somewhat of a hot-button issue today for both philanthropists and charity leaders. A near constant concern in the charitable/philanthropic sector, often unspoken, is the question “is all this work, and money, even making a difference?”
On the other hand, some charities fear that stringent measurement and evaluation will take the spirit out of their work. Brent noted that “For some people the idea of measuring the progress of people felt like we might lose some of the relational focus and the caring for the individual,” but TIMES “also provided us with the opportunity to create the level of integration across organizational sectors that is required to achieve wrap-around care.” Increased coordination then allows individuals to be cared for in a more holistic way.
While YSM originally developed TIMES for their own use to measure their work, they knew that one of the persistent issues that causes confusion and lack of coordination in the social service and community development sectors was the lack of common measurement indicators. YSM felt that if they developed a useful and viable tool that covered most, if not all, of the key areas connected to the impacts of poverty on lives and communities, they could make progress in working collaboratively.
They’ve already made great strides toward more collaboration in Toronto. “To date, the work we completed 3 and a half years ago has proven to be robust enough to support YSM's own work and to receive positive support from the City of Toronto, Provincial Health Network, university professors, subject matter experts and collective impact initiatives,” says Brent.
TIMES is performing a valuable role in achieving YSM’s goal of ending chronic poverty in Toronto by September 2036. They recognize that a vision this bold requires all hands on deck, so they are assuming a posture of service by providing tools for others and making it safe to collaborate.
YSM envisions a future where other organizations are using TIMES in the fight against poverty. If you have questions about TIMES and are interested to learn more, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on YSM, visit their website at ysm.ca.