Managing performance for a better world – Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationI have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. Bill Gates The Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world, based by Bill and Melinda Gates. Its primary aims are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.
As Bill Gates states in the most recent annual letter, the organization is focused on results, especially on those that can be measured. The foundation’s co-chair and trustee offers insights on how the management committee focuses on evaluating and measuring results in order to achieve performance.
Success measurement – a way to seek continuous improvement
As Bill Gates itself affirms, “the understanding of how to use measurement to drive excellence in business has improved dramatically in the last 50 years”. In accordance to this belief, the success measurement at the Gates Foundation has three essential coordinates:
- Tracking the progress: all the inputs and outputs of the Foundation and its partners and grantees are measured in order to keep track of their activities and results;
- Informing the strategies: both the intermediate outcomes, intended or achieved (such as changes in technologies, systems, behaviors), as well as the ultimate impacts (the sustainable changes) are measured, in order to understand where did the success or, on the contrary, the failure come from.
- Contribution to the field: the Foundation contributes to achieving shared goals and collaborates with the grantees and partners in determining whether the initial common goals have been achieved.
“We seek to measure, to learn, and to improve at every step along the way. We are disciplined, because we want to maximize the effectiveness of our efforts, and learn from the results of our partners and grantees” (gatesfundation.org). Bill Gates also emphasizes the importance of choosing the right measurement tools: “You use the measurement as feedback to make adjustments. I think a lot of efforts fail because they don’t focus on the right measure or they don’t invest enough in doing it accurately”.
Practical examples of successful measurements
As the Foundation’s main goals are to reduce hunger, poverty and disease, the innovations in measurement were seen as crucial to finding new, effective ways to deliver these services to clinics, families and classrooms that needed them. An essential part of this process was finding the best measurement tools to determine which approaches work and which don’t.
Some of the examples of incipient good practice identified by the Foundation are summarized by Bill Gates: “In Colorado, Melinda and I learned how a school district is pioneering a new system to measure and promote teacher effectiveness. In Ethiopia, I witnessed how a poor country, pursuing goals set by the United Nations, delivered better health services to its people. In Nigeria, I’ve seen how the digital revolution allows us to improve the use of measurement in the campaign to eradicate polio”.
Melinda Gates, on the other hand, offers the example of using measurable goals and activities in correlation with family planning, as an expression of improvement in health, prosperity and quality of life in the developing countries. “This is the exciting part, where we can see how measurement leads to sweeping changes in the way health systems serve people” (Melinda Gates).
In 2009, the foundation started a project called Measures of Effective Teaching that worked with 3.000 classroom teachers to better understand how to build an evaluation and feedback system to help teachers improve.
As a part of its strategy, the foundation supports the development and use of KPIs and decision support tools that enable institutions to identify problems, set goals and priorities, allocate resources, measure progress and make adjustments based on evidence. All in all, the Gates foundation offers a good insight on how measurement can and should be used in order to increase the performance and achieve the goals.