Nonprofits- Behavioral health services and technology-II


My last post was about working with a non profit and how some opportunities for software development came up and forced me to think about whether we should or should not go for digitizing every input into data. A part of the data was totally quantifiable: the data entry and reports based on data collected. The other - human emotion, wellness, impact of group sessions- wasn't.

To my extremely well trained analytical, logical, research oriented mind, it seemed like a beautiful opportunity to measure/monitor/improve the effectiveness of the processes/programs that were employed to help people who came to benefit from these services. I sat through many of these group sessions — peer support, goals group, assertiveness training- ones I could find myself relating to in some ways to understand, participate, observe and mostly to just listen. As a human who believes deeply in the values of sharing and listening and having been a recent witness/participant of Awakin circles@Santa Clara I was immediately able to appreciate the enormous value of these groups but peer support was the one that really caught my attention. It was also the most attended group- and thus offered daily.

People sat in a circle with a facilitator passing the baton around giving opportunity for anyone who wanted to speak/share/ask for help. And there were always at least two or three who would decide to be completely vulnerable/cry openly/talk about themselves, and there were always some beautiful supporters and responders who had something of value to add/say. I wondered what went on here that was so powerful. The trust people had in each other was unprecedented. Most people were strangers. Was this possible in a corporate office? Would colleagues trust each other like this? Why was this working? Did everyone just know that everyone else was vulnerable because they were here? And hence no one had any issue with total honesty?

Could we collect data on this and build software to really evaluate the effectiveness of such a system? How do you measure how a person gets impacted by attending a peer support session? How do you define success? Does everyone define success equally? Even if we got daily feedback in the form of questionnaire for a month/quarter/year, would we still be able to gather the data we needed? How much data would be enough?
Let us say there is a small part that could be quantized. We could have a feedback questionnaire that asks simple yes or no questions (making sure the questions can only have these two answers). Like-
i. Did you like attending the group/session? 0 Yes 0 No
ii. Will you come again? 0 Yes 0 No
iii. Did you feel supported at the peer support session? 0 Yes 0 No
Or we could have multiple choice questions with an extra “Other” choice where the user/participant could give his tailored input. Like-
iv. If you shared and asked for peer support today, and you answered yes to the previous question- please share what helped-
0 my problem got solved
0 advice
0 feeling of connection
0 compassion
0 smiles and hugs
0 other reason-
There is no harm in these questions. Although these would only help as far as people answered honestly. Also, awareness is a basic challenge for people with mental health. So going back to how do you measure such a system? Is collecting data here a valid method? Is self-evaluation an objective evaluation? Does this data-set wholly represent the system and it’s success/ failure? What information is getting lost? How do we know what is enough? Should we jump at gathering data every time we come across a project? Does that really help? How do we help? 

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