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How to identify 8-10 metrics that will keep your digital project on track and make reporting back to your funders and service users easier.

This resource is for:

  • Digital leads in small charities
  • Senior managers with responsibility for a digital project and reporting to funders
  • Data, learning and evaluation leads - with responsibility for analysis and reporting

It will show you how to identify metrics that give you:

  • a topline understanding of how much something is happening (e.g. x beneficiaries received y)
  • an operational knowledge of what's working well and what's not across your digital project.

It will also give you tips for making metric tracking manageable.

What is a meaningful metric?

A meaningful metric is a metric that has practical value. It will:

  • give you a clear perspective on your project progress.
  • help you see what improvements will deliver the most impact for your users.

How is this different from monitoring and evaluation?

Traditional monitoring and evaluation efforts usually focus on measuring annual or project-end outcomes. They do this by checking if planned activities have achieved their expected outcomes.

Measuring the success of a digital project is different. It uses live user insights to help guide a development. This requires a continuous process.  

Digital projects have more data points

Digital projects are likely to have more data points for you to draw from.

For example, a web-based project with in-built analytics will tell you a lot about how people are using your site. Or you might use your CRM to send out regular surveys to your users. Their responses will provide ideas and feedback on your service or project.

You'll still be looking for the hallmarks of an excellent quantitative or qualitative indicator. But digital projects make it easier to design your systems to collect a lot of the information for you. This reduces the level of manual work in data collection.

Aim for a combination of metric types

There are four types of data. Use them together for a clear, holistic picture of how your project is progressing.

To start, group your metrics into the following data types:

  1. Quality: Quality metrics tell you how good your digital project or service is at doing what it says it does. For example, it could be a key delivery stat or a user-feedback score.
  2. Reach: Reach metrics help you understand how your users find you. Avoid vanity metrics like how many people visited your website. Instead, focus on finding more meaningful metrics. This could include new sign-up numbers or which marketing channels yield the most responses.
  3. Engagement: Engagement metrics will reveal your digital project's value to your users. Identify data showing how people engage with your product. Examine where they drop their engagement. For example, this might be how many users convert from sign-up to participating in an activity. Or it could be a public donor choosing to make a repeat donation.
  4. Cost: Cost metrics will help you identify where you can make spending efficiencies. They will guide what service improvements you should invest in to get the most value for your money.

Shorten your list of metrics

You need to decide which 8-10 metrics from these 4 groups are the most meaningful ones to track. Group them on a value/effort matrix to identify which will best meet your needs.

a 4 quad grid using axis through the middle to rate metrics according to value and effort
A value/effort matrix for identifying high value metrics.

Look for these 'high-value' qualities to gauge which metrics will be most meaningful:

  1. Simplicity: a good metric should be easy for everyone to understand. Simplicity also makes it more effective at keeping you focused. For example: total number of service users, number of complaints, your net promoter score.
  2. Sensitivity: a good metric will respond to direct changes you make more than external factors. For example, if you increase your ad spend on x, y will likely happen.
  3. Timeliness: consider how long it will take you to gather the metric data and how often you'll need to do it. For example weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.
  4. Representative: a metric on its own can be meaningless without the context of other indicators. Use a metric that makes sense when triangulated against other data points. This will give you a truer picture of what's happening. For example, how many people have downloaded a resource from your website. This is more representative than measuring how many visited the website page.

Make a final selection

Look at your matrix and select your top 2-3 metrics for each data type (quality, reach, engagement and cost). These then make up your 8-10 meaningful metrics.

Sticking to the 8-10 formula is important. It is the best way to create a manageable combination of metrics for both:

  • a topline understanding of how much something is happening
  • an operational knowledge of what's working well and what's not

Tracking in practice

A meaningful metric could be a simple number you can lift from your CRM system. But it could also involve a calculation you need to make using two or more data sources. For example, if you are working out a conversion rate, you’ll need to know how many users signed-up and how many have taken an action.

List what data you'll need for each metric, where it comes from, who handles gathering it, and how often it should be gathered.

Create a source of truth

Bring all your key metric data together in one place. This will enable you to visualise your digital project's progress. You can even create data views for internal and external stakeholders. This will build trust, manage expectations and keep everyone aligned.

Google or Excel spreadsheets can be inexpensive for tracking metrics. They work over time and let you create pivot tables or charts to help explain the data.

There is also a range of low-cost data-visualisation tools like Databox and PowerBI. These enable you to combine data from various sources, like social media channels and CRM systems.

Track less things better

Tracking a few things well over time will drive improvements in the areas that matter most to your users.

Try including 1-2 key metrics in your weekly team meetings to keep everyone engaged in your digital project's journey.

Change your metrics

Your meaningful metrics are likely to evolve and change as your project progresses. This happens most as you move from development to launch. But if you establish a transparent, data-led practice for benchmarking learnings and progress early on, you'll be in a strong position for long-term success.

Further information

Reference points for some of the guidance in this article, plus metric examples:  

Want to see some real life examples from Shared Digital Guides?


Image credit: Ana C on Flickr

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