Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Evaluation in Action: Demonstrating Results, Measuring Impact and Informing Change in Financial Capability

By Deborah Visser and Daria Sheehan, Guest Contributors

Deborah Visser is director for Success Measures, investments and partnerships at NeighborWorks America and Daria Sheehan is senior program officer at the Citi Foundation. This post is also available on CFED's Inclusive Economy blog.

The financial capability field is always looking for better, more rigorous ways to demonstrate results of financial coaching, financial education, housing, credit counseling and asset-building efforts on the lives of individuals and families. To address this need, the Citi Foundation joined a small group of funders and practitioners to collaborate with the Success Measures program ( at NeighborWorks America to develop and field test a comprehensive set of financial capability outcome indicators and data collection instruments.

We are excited by the prospect that these new tools will make it easier for practitioners to measure changes in low- and moderate-income consumers’ financial status, attitudes, behaviors, resilience and more. To encourage the financial capability sector to embed outcome measurement as a standard practice, The Success Measures Financial Capability Indicators and Tools are now available to the field free of charge.

What makes these tools distinct from other traditional measures that gauge the effectiveness of financial capability efforts is the inclusion of behavioral tools that address concrete things people do, as well as the strategies they employ to manage financial change over time. Data collected from The Success Measures Financial Capability Indicators and Tools can be tailored by community-based organizations to conduct structured conversations with clients on financial issues, inform changes in program design, and communicate results to a wide range of stakeholders. Financial capability funders, researchers and policymakers can analyze client data across multiple organizations working toward the same outcomes with the same set of shared, tested metrics to identify best practice, improve their understanding of factors that impact financial stability and promote innovation through public policy reform.

This collaborative field-building effort has already gained considerable traction. For example, the Youth Financial Empowerment (YFE) program in New York City has used the new tools to determine attitudes and behaviors regarding financial practices of youth in its program and is continuing to track changes over time. This will enable YFE to better help its clients cultivate a mindset about saving money that would support the transition from foster care to independence. In Oakland, the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation has been able to make use of the tools to help its clients begin to learn how to reduce their debt, while also beginning to accumulate savings.

To sustain the momentum of these and similar efforts, a two-year, $5 million grant from the Citi Foundation is supporting a scaling initiative aimed at delivering state-of-the-art financial education and coaching needed to enable families to build their savings, reduce debt and better manage their finances. As an important component of the initiative, 31 organizations are receiving training and technical assistance to use the Success Measures Financial Capability tools to conduct real-time evaluations of how the financial knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of their clients change over time.

We welcome your feedback on these new financial capability outcome evaluation tools and look forward to learning how practitioners are using them in their asset-building work. Check out the tools in the Citi-funded publication here: