Three Questions to Ask Yourself to Drive Improvement

We live in a data-driven age. It is estimated today that the volume of information available to humans doubles every twelve months. Technology makes it easier to capture and store information. We have more information at our fingertips. What to buy, what to do, where to go: there’s probably an app for that.


CICOA Aging & In-Home Services, an Area Agency on Aging serving several counties in Indiana, makes use of technology too. We have upgraded the software that helps track clients receiving home-delivered meals. Our transportation service, Way2Go, has invested in software and computer tablets that help schedule trips and map out efficient routes. We are making numerous improvements to our website to make it easier for consumers to find us on the internet, and easier for service providers and healthcare professionals to coordinate care with us. We are upgrading our telephone capacity to accommodate the growing volume of phone calls in the Aging & Disability Resource Center. And, we continue to build upon the tools that support our Options Counseling and Care Management staff. Together, these tools help us know more about the people we serve and the impact that those services have on their lives.


We collect a lot of data. We survey clients and consumers. We conduct health assessments and client interviews. We gather input from providers and we seek out best practices from our peers across the aging services network. But what do we DO with all that information? What does it tell us? And how does it help us tell our story?


Many times, organizations describe what they do in terms of outputs. How many people receive services in the home? How many meals did we serve? How many trips do we provide? How much did we spend? These are important numbers, but they do not tell the whole story. Recently, we began a series of reflective conversations among our staff about CICOA’s programs and services and how they fulfill our mission in Central Indiana. The conversations involve three deceptively simple questions: What? So What? (and) Now What?


What? What do we do? How many? At what cost? These are the traditional metrics many of us use to describe our business, school or nonprofit organization. How big is your staff? What is your budget? How many people do you serve? These outputs and numbers help define your work, provide a sense of scale. They can also be helpful in describing who you serve. This is important information, but it is only part of the story. So, the next question is. . .


So what? Answering this question helps develop a broader appreciation and understanding of the impact of the programs, services and departments of CICOA on the organization, the people we serve and the communities we live in.


What is the outcome of the effort? What is the impact on the lives of the people we serve? Or the community as a whole? And, why would you—the client, the donor, the volunteer—care? We know that the people participating in Meals and More report an overall improvement in their diet. And, that home-safety modification completed through Safe At Home dramatically reduces the risk of a senior being injured from a fall. These are two examples of how CICOA is able to help improve health and reduce the costs of long-term care.


Now What? This is a question of reflection. What do the results tell us about our efforts? How do we know we are being effective? How can we improve? Do we do more? Do less? Do things differently? “Now what?” is a powerful planning tool and a way to consider ways to improve upon the work we do.

By asking these three questions we are . . .

  • better informed and better able to communicate with staff, volunteers, clients and constituents;
  • better able to see opportunities for collaboration and development across departments and service lines;
  • better able to make effective management decisions;
  • better able to identify and measure outcomes;
  • better able to make sense of complex challenges and unleash actions to address them.


Understanding what works and why helps make it possible to break down complex challenges facing older adults, people with disabilities and their family caregivers, and help achieve independence, dignity and quality of life.