Define Key Questions

Before you start collecting data, it is important to clarify what information you hope your data will provide and how you will use that data. The best way to do this is to identify specific questions about your work that will guide you throughout your data collection process. To help identify what your guiding questions should be, turn to your organization’s strategic plan or your program logic model.

Use your strategic plan

Your strategic plan outlines the goals of your organization and offers tactical strategies for achieving those goals.

  • Goals define “what” you are seeking to achieve
  • Strategies define “how” you will do it

In order to identify the guiding questions that will best serve you, make sure that your goals and strategies are as SMART and CLEAR as possible.

SMART Goals are:

  • Specific – clearly defined
  • Measurable – easily recorded, scaled and compared
  • Attainable – not only possible but reasonable
  • Relevant – reflect your organizational mission
  • Time-bound – able to be achieved in a fixed timeframe

CLEAR Goals are:

  • Collaborative – achieved in partnership with others
  • Limited – possess a defined scope and duration
  • Emotional – harness the energy and passion of the team working to achieve them
  • Appreciable – smaller goals contribute to a bigger objective
  • Refinable – adapt to rapidly changing environments

Once you have defined SMART, CLEAR goals, you can move on to identifying your guiding questions.

Example

From Goals to Guiding Questions

Goal (“what”): Increase the number of young adults who take a gap year between high school and college to volunteer.

Strategy (“how”): Engage rising high school juniors and seniors in summer volunteer programs.

Guiding Questions:
  • Have participants’ feelings about the importance of service changed as a result of these programs?
  • Are participants more likely to take a gap year to volunteer in between high school and college?

Use your logic model

A logic model is a framework for considering how your different projects, initiatives and programs contribute to your organization’s goals and how you can track your progress along the way. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you build your logic model:

  • Impact: What measurable change are you seeking to achieve in the long term?
  • Outcomes: What measurable change are you seeking to achieve in the short to intermediate term? What would indicate that you are on your way to accomplishing your long-term goals?
  • Outputs: What tangibles can you measure immediately following the program?
  • Activities: What are the high-level steps that you need to take to successfully run the program?
  • Inputs: What resources (money, staff, technology) do you need to invest in the program for it to be successful?

Note: Typically, you build a logic model in reverse order, beginning with impact and ending with inputs.

Example

The goal of your organization is to increase the number of young people who take a gap year between high school and college to volunteer. You believe that by engaging rising high school juniors and seniors in short-term service programs, you will see more teens go on to participate in a year-long service program after graduating high school.

One of your signature programs provides teens the opportunity to volunteer at summer camps for low-income families. Volunteers commit to 2 or 4 weeks to help run the camp—coordinate activities, oversee meals, run field trips to local museums and provide afternoon tutoring for students who need extra summer reading support.

To build the logic model for this program, start with the impact column, then move to outcomes, outputs, activities and, finally, inputs.

Logic model example:
Inputs Activities Outputs Outcomes Impact

1 staff person

Recruit program participants

Register participants

Place participants in summer volunteer programs

150 local teens volunteer for a 2-week period

150 local teens volunteer for a 4-week period

Teens have more exposure to the positive effects of service and volunteerism

Young adults feel there is value in engaging in service and volunteerism

Young people are more likely to make a commitment to service and volunteerism

Increase the number of individuals who make a commitment to service by taking a gap year between high school and college

Once you have developed your logic model, look at the output, outcome and impact columns to help formulate your strategic questions:

Guiding Questions:
  • Have participants’ feelings about the importance of service changed as a result of these programs?
  • Are participants more likely to choose a gap year for service in between high school and college?

A note about logic models: You can find many templates for logic models online, and while they all use very similar language, there are some small differences in how the terms are defined and the components that should be included. Choose the template that best fits your needs and the way you think about your work.