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July 07, 2008


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Bill Huddleston, CFC Expert

The Good Samaritan & “Performance Measurement”
by Bill Huddleston

Currently, there’s a lot of hype in the world about being “results oriented” and the culture of “performance management” has seeped its way into almost every realm of American life, including business, government and now, the non-profit world as well.

Well, why shouldn’t it? Doesn’t it sound like it’s the only way to be, after all, who could be “against results” or against “performance measurement.” It sounds great, but like the question, “When did you stop beating your wife (or husband)?” it sets the stage in an extremely negative, and skewed fashion.

Let’s use a historical example, the story of the good Samaritan from the Bible is one that I believe is so widely known that it qualifies as a societal story, not just a religious one.

To recap, in the parable a traveler is robbed, beaten, stripped of his clothes and left for dead. Two different people walk by, leaving the robbery victim alone. Then a man from Samaria (the Good Samaritan) comes upon the man, and even though the two different groups hated each other, he stops to render aid. The Samaritan takes pity on the victim, bandages him, pours oil and wine on his wounds, then puts the victim on his donkey and takes him to an inn and takes care of him. The next day, the Good Samaritan gives the innkeeper two dineri (this was two days wages at the time) and tells the innkeeper, “Look after him, and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you have.” (The story is from Luke 10:29-35).

Now let’s apply modern performance measurement and outcome techniques to this story. With 2000 years of history the story still resonates, how many people have been helped because someone remembered the story of the Good Samaritan and acted in a way that was not perhaps their first impulse? We will never know, and to the performance management crowd, this incident would be recorded today as “too expensive” and “ineffective” – after all, the Samaritan only helped one person. We don’t know if the Samaritan ever came back and paid those extra expenses, and it was two day’s earnings to help just this one person.

It would also received the rating of : “Results Not Demonstrated” - we don’t know if the victim ever recovered, was permanently injured, or had mental impairment due to his injuries. All we know is that he had the crap beat out of him, multiple people walked by, until the “unclean” Samaritan stopped to help.

According to the performance measurement tools, the Good Samaritan “program” was a failure and had no impact.

I think not.

Copyright Bill Huddleston, All rights reserved.
Blog: www.cfctreasures.wordpress.com
[email protected]

Albert Ruesga

The Good Samaritan's time and treasure were his own to give as he pleased, unlike the situation with many contemporary professionals in philanthropy. And even the most cold-hearted Laplacian would applaud the Samaritan's choice. But here's also a case where the outcomes of the giver's action are completely manifest: a life is saved. Going just a little out of his way, adding a few minutes to his journey, saves a man's life. The benefit to cost ratio looks high by just about any calculus I can think of.

Rich DAmato

Good topic....but...a pox on both the House of Metrics and the House of Social Justice and on the cost/benefit ratio. Accountability and analysis will never yield that which we seek from them...they are both more a matter of reducing the unit of measure -- the smaller the unit measured the greater the good achieved? -- than they are capable of actually measuring that elusive thing called success. The real lesson of the Good Samaritan, as noted, is not WHAT he did but that he did. The act was the benefit, even if the victim didn't survive. The real lesson to be imparted to both camps is not revealed by answering, "did you end social ill X or did your ratio work out to the right side of the +/-", but how many other people or organizations did you draw onto the playing field or involve in taking action. This how-many-people-are-on-the-field theory of success is the only measure worthy of our time and effort. It's the only way to assure ourselves of getting the best ideas into action and the only way to avoid becoming two (or three or four) camps simply shouting at each other across the divide. So let's stop doing A-B comparisons like the audiophiles have been doing since somebody harnessed the power of stereo recording and let's just all get out on the dance floor...

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