We’re all here because we want to make a difference in people’s lives. But how do we know that we’re making a meaningful difference? Is the person I support empowered as a result of what I’m doing? Is the community getting stronger as a result of our collective work? Answering these questions is important because we want to do what works for people and stop doing what doesn’t work. We also want to get the most out of our efforts – are there promising practices that work even better than the ones we use today?

Service impact is how we translate our mission into outcomes that we can measure and share with our community. We can then use those results to drive our services in the right direction. Measuring impact is important to all our stakeholders, too. When selecting among provider agencies, individuals and their guardians increasingly want to know how effective we are at providing supports. Funders and donors want to see what their money is accomplishing.

Sherry Lynn MacNeil, Senior Director of Service Impact, is getting Aspire ready to answer these vital questions. “My job is to take the work that we’re doing and aggregate it so we can say ‘this is how we’re meeting the mission.’” But getting there is more than crunching numbers.

Figuring out which outcomes to examine is a complicated process. Some things that are easy to measure, such as the number of admissions and discharges to programs, don’t tell much about why people are coming or going. Conversely, some things that are enormously important to the people we support, such as the quality of their friendships, are much harder to quantify. There are national standards that we are using as a starting place, including the factors outlined in the National Core Indicators and the Personal Outcome Measures used in the CQL accreditation process. Sherry Lynn expects that these outcomes will evolve over time. “Six months from now, I might say something different depending on the organization’s priorities and the national landscape.”

Even as we identify the outcomes of interest, Aspire must ensure that systems are in place to implement practices and to measure outcomes consistently across all programs and services. These systems are a big part of Sherry Lynn’s initial focus. “We need to standardize our processes….We have to evaluate the systems that drive the data. We need to have confidence in the validity of the things we’re attempting to measure.”

Making sure that our basic systems of training and data collection are functioning the way we want, and making sure that everyone is trained and supported to use them, is key to service impact. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Sherry Lynn is part of the Training Task Force, which is a cross-departmental group that is coming together to create a unified approach to training DSPs and managers.

The Training Task Force is developing unified standards to ensure that all training programs address the best practices in the field as well as Aspire’s organizational priorities and lead to on-the-job competence. The new training system will provide a shared resource across all states, so expect to see some new training opportunities with your peers from across the agency in the next six to twelve months.

Sherry Lynn is also evaluating our use of an electronic record systems. Currently, she is working with a team for a re-boot of Therap. New and improved features on Therap can be utilized once everyone at Aspire is using Therap in the same way. In the People Department, Ultipro/UKG will eventually house all employee-related information. Ultimately, all our systems need to work together. Sherry Lynn is continuously asking, “How are all the different systems coming together to support the bigger picture? How does training push up against retention, and how does training impact expectations around supervision? How does this connect with clinical services and program implementation?”

Sherry Lynn says doing systems work is “an exercise in patience.” Systems can seem far removed from our mission, but they are critical to our ongoing success. As the systems work pays off, Sherry Lynn expects to see Aspire operate a consistent program model across all services. Integration of person-centered planning, positive behavioral support, and the quality dimensions of CQL accreditation will form the backbone of the model. With data in hand, we will dig deeply and successfully into the factors that contribute to a person living a great life.


Is It Working? Sherry Lynn MacNeil and Service Impact ask the hard questions