Milestone Moments: Evaluating and Aggregating Tailored Outcomes
By Santiago Bunce
As many of our clients and supporters know, Catalyst Miami is currently in the midst of adopting a new neighborhood-based, resilience-oriented approach to our on-the-ground work. What may be less apparent is that these external shifts also necessitate internal ones: as our programming evolves, our evaluative process must too. In the next few paragraphs, you’ll learn how we’re confronting this challenge—one common to many organizations—by developing our own unique methodology. It’s a methodology that we hope will benefit not only our organization, but also our constituents and other partners in this work.
Founded in 1995 by members of the local League of Women Voters, Catalyst Miami originally set out to address how the Clinton Administration’s welfare reforms might impact low-wealth families. Since that time, Catalyst has grown into a nonprofit that provides direct services to individuals and families across a wide range of issues, including health, wealth, community leadership, youth development, and climate resilience. Aware that systems and policy changes are needed to promote and generate equity and well-being, and that partner organizations are equally engaged in building prosperity, Catalyst also began establishing interventions at the meso- and macro-levels—through capacity building and policy and advocacy work, respectively—to enhance the results of micro-level direct services. Today, we have over 30 different programs and engagement efforts.
To capture the aggregated results of our work across such a diverse set of programs and engagements, we needed to identify how to benchmark outcomes across programs and then, how to aggregate micro-, meso-, and macro-level outcomes. To further complicate the task, we also had to determine how to do this across varied issue areas and communities, and for programs that serve different, yet related purposes. Recognizing that others have confronted similar problems before, we explored various solutions, including the Center for Urban Futures’ “person-centered approach" , which tracks the progress of individual constituents across key evaluative dimensions. Just as with the CUF program, the more precise and tailored we can design metrics to be, the better the programmatic adjustments and interventions overall.
Starting this year, Catalyst will begin identifying and tracking Milestone Moments. These moments signify outcomes that demonstrate meaningful changes in an individual’s, family’s, or community’s day-to-day life—changes that provide more stable footing for those we serve and a step toward greater goals. We plan to contextualize these Milestone Moments as much as possible. For example, $1,000 saved by someone making $20,000 a year is more significant than the same amount saved by someone making $40,000. The goal is to tailor our analysis to what is relevant and meaningful to each individual, while still tracking data cumulatively. Perhaps most importantly, Milestone Moments will be based on research, literature, and data that demonstrate that if certain outcomes occur, doors open to other economic, health, and civic improvements in a person’s life.
So what do Milestone Moments look like in practice? A few examples we are working on include measurements related to wealth, health, and policy changes. When considering credit scores, for example, we want to position clients to increase their score overall, but we also know that a score ranked as “Good” means greater access to capital, higher likelihood of approval for loans, and lower interest rates. By benchmarking to the FICO 8 and 9 score for “Good” at 661, and VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0 score for “Good” at 670 , we can track who is hitting the Milestone Moment and staying there.
As a financial metric, household savings offer another milestone opportunity, and one that is highly dependent on families’ distinct circumstances. Savings give a read on financial stability because they relate to liquid-asset poverty, or having insufficient savings to survive three months in the absence of income. In Florida, the liquid-asset poverty rate is 48%  and in the City of Miami it’s about 67% . Therefore, to determine the Milestone Moment and whether or not it has been achieved, our financial coaches can determine the monthly expenses a household incurs and calculate the necessary total to transition out of liquid-asset poverty. This number will vary for every family, but the successful outcome—sufficient savings to cover three months-worth of expenses—remains the same.
Other Milestone Moments are less complicated to measure. For example, enrolling in affordable medical insurance and maintaining coverage is a Milestone Moment for health. For civic participation, data suggests that voting in local elections means people are more likely to contact local officials, stay informed in local affairs, and volunteer —all of which generates greater community connection and commitment. As a result, voting in a local election for the first time is a Milestone Moment. Finally, policy wins at municipal levels, such as establishing a minimum wage that matches a local living wage, represent Milestone Moments for constituents who directly benefit.
Tracking Milestone Moments will yield important benefits. First, by aggregating results across programs and departments, we’ll be able to see more clearly the overall results of the organization’s collective work. This will create a greater sense of connection and understanding among staff and departments. In addition, by tracking and aggregating Milestone Moments as each program participant and partner organization engages with Catalyst, we’ll gain a better understanding of the breadth and depth of our work. Second, as we drill down on the data, we will be able to identify which programs—or which combination of programs, services, and advocacy—result in the most sustainable and consistent Milestone Moments. Third, this new methodology will allow us to standardize and benchmark key measures of the outcomes we seek, thus giving us clear, incremental goalposts that will help us better position our clients for success. Equally important, we’ll be able to better advocate for policy and systems changes that will perpetuate positive impact. Finally, the Milestone Moments methodology will force us to remain vigilant and aware of the changes occurring across issue areas and how benchmarks evolve.
To be clear, prosperity does not result solely from an individual’s work alone, or their participation in direct service programs provided by Catalyst and/or others. While direct services provide opportunities for stability, macro-level change to address the historical inequity and unfair policies, systems, and structures that perpetuate poverty and serve as gatekeepers to prosperity, are equally, if not more important.
We’re excited for this Milestone Moment approach and are eager to learn. How else have you tailored and aggregated outcomes? What other models exist? What other individual and community-level changes do you regard as meaningful in an individual’s life, and thus worthy of recognition as Milestone Moment? Let us know in the comments below!
Thank you to Sue Gallagher, Chief Innovation Officer of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, who reviewed and contributed to this post.
 Leadership for a Networked World. “All In: The Story of Joseph Jones, Jr., The Center for Urban Families, and Their Mission to Dismantle Poverty”. 2018