Driver C


Use observation and information to turn doing into learning

To achieve equity at scale, learning leaders use measurement to uncover opportunities—large and small—to improve services so that they meet the needs of every young person, family, and community. Measurement makes visible how, for whom, and under what conditions your strategies and approaches work, or if they work at all. Integrated fully and seamlessly into everyone’s standard work, measurement continually gauges whether you deliver equitable services and processes throughout your system.

Dig in below to learn more about Measurement, explore learning leadership in practice, and reflect and take action to improve your own work!

I believe that we reveal values in where we look and how we tell.

Imani Perry1Perry, I. (2022, May 13). Welcome to Unsettled Territory. The Atlantic.

Measurement is both a key leadership competency and accelerator of service quality and delivery.

In learning systems, measurement is no longer a technical, isolated activity, tethered only to the latest discrete problem-solving effort. Rather, it is an outgrowth and a manifestation of strategy. As a learning leader, you serve as an active processor, gatherer, and generator of measures, and you give others the capacity to do the same. You use measurement as the mirror to observe your system in action, detect ways in which your understanding, reach, and quality of work needs to or can improve or change, and act on those opportunities so that individuals and the system as a whole can become ever better.

Because measurement creates expectations, and expectations create obligations, and obligations structure actions, and actions reflect values, measurement influences how you work and to what end. Leverage measurement to monitor and improve what matters most. To transform your system, you must transform the way you think about measurement.

To build this system and become this leader:

Learning leaders use measurement to continually and comprehensively understand, test, and refine decisions, actions, and strategy. Faced with complex systems they alone can never master, learning leaders use measurement to make doing and learning inseparable for all system actors. Measurement is key to improving system-wide practices, including their own practice as leaders. And by using measurement to improve practice, they practice improvement, becoming ever better at becoming ever better and incrementally learning new and more effective ways to achieve their ultimate strategic aim: equity at scale. 

This approach represents a significant departure from measurement for compliance or measurement for accountability. Measurement for improvement prioritizes integrated, rapid, system-wide learning. Like a learning methodology, measurement is a component of system design, culture, and practice. Measurement for improvement helps answer the question, “How will we know a change is an improvement?” and requires: 

  • aligning measures to strategic inputs, drivers, and outcomes; 

  • measuring quality and quantity of services and effect;

  • setting before-the-fact performance expectations; and 

  • collecting information in responsive and affirming ways that support the participation of stakeholders throughout the system.

Done right, measurement communicates core values, focuses stakeholders on the strategy, and supports localized and system-wide learning. Learning leaders home in on select measures that allow them to gauge the most important parts of strategy. They focus on elements that are essential to advancing equity, most tightly aligned to the ultimate aim, and able to serve as early alerts when things fall off track.

Once committed to using measurement as a driver of equity and improvement, learning leaders develop the infrastructure to make this vision operational. Measurement serves as a unifying mechanism, not a structural barrier. Learning leaders architect their systems to derive learning from the many distinct yet interrelated dynamics that sustain them. They design integrated, self-reinforcing measurement structures that sit within the organizational learning structures discussed in Driver A and rely on the same networked, cross-functional, team-based configurations to generate system-wide learning. They leverage measurement as a part of this overarching systems design to make the interrelatedness among system actors and work more visible and more usable.

Learning leaders design systems to amplify common performance expectations so that everyone has a clear picture of the best-informed definition of success and is therefore able to detect when it is and is not met, no matter where in the system they operate. They also reject the inevitability of persistent failure, designing systems to detect deviations so that they may be addressed instead of designing systems to perpetually tolerate deviations or generate workarounds.

By demonstrating time and again that what happens in one area of the system affects others, measurement unifies; by demonstrating that what is uncovered, discovered, and improved in one area expands the capacity of the whole, measurement transforms, allowing the system to deliberately and continually advance.   

Even leaders with the most well-designed improvement-driven measurement processes recognize that structures alone are not sufficient for transforming their systems to sustain equity at scale. They acknowledge that people drive systems, not tools. And culture drives people: providing an essential grounding, motivating, and unifying force that turns individuals into movements—“I” into “us.” Leaders who foster a strong culture of measurement for improvement design systems in which people share data freely, approach measurement with an excitement and openness to discovery, and are agile and facile data analysts.

Learning leaders foster a culture in which the benefits of being open and transparent far outweigh risks conventionally associated with data, measurement, or accountability. They counter any stigma or fear around data and measurement by normalizing the practice of being transparent and forthright about results and the lessons they provoke. To start, they apply this level of transparency to their own and system-level data, openly exploring improvement opportunities for their own leadership and system design. 

In such a culture everyone sees and experiences measurement as valuable to their individual and collective goals, feels compelled to share data—favorable or unfavorable— and uses measurement to further progress. As discussed in Driver A, at every turn learning leaders reinforce a revised definition of success—equity through the pursuit of ever better—and build into their systems a sense of collective responsibility to that chief goal, motivating system actors to admit to and interrogate their missteps and to seek improvement even in areas in which they are less directly involved. 

In systems with strong measurement strategies, leaders set the conditions for all members of the organization to leverage measurement to advance continuous learning and improvement. Achieve Atlanta exemplifies this approach.

Learning leaders commit to ongoing reflection and iteration on system design and leadership practice in order to support continuous improvement in service of equity.

The following activities support consideration of and action to improve your own leadership practice related to Measurement.

How does your system use measurement? 

  • How distributed are measurement practices and responsibilities? How might you restructure measurement so that it is integrated into everyone’s daily work? 

  • What are the most core elements of your strategy? How do you measure them? What measures are most in focus? Do they also align with your core strategy?  

  • Have you set performance expectations for each measure?  

  • What alert systems (andon structures) exist in your system? Which work most reliably? Are there pockets where problems languish unaddressed? As a leader, how might you help set up more sensitive detection apparatuses?   
  • How have you set up measurement to monitor core parts of the system, including your own leadership approach?

  • When and why do you measure both process and outcome? When and why do you not do so? Are there neglected leading indicators that would give you an early read on performance?

  • How are you smoothing the path for others to access and make use of data? What obstacles to accessing data could you mitigate?

  • Which of your data tools do not work for you or the system? In what ways might you simplify these tools or make them more accessible?
  • What do you do to ensure you measure what matters most? How do you remind yourself and others of these key measures so they build connections and structure actions?

  • Have you consistently involved in measurement key stakeholders? 

  • What are system actors’ capacity and appetite for engaging in measurement? What capacity building structures have you put in place to support them? 

  • When and how do you look beyond qualitative data to understand your system? When and how do you collect qualitative data directly from people closest to the problems? In what ways are you intentionally including the voices of those who have historically been locked out of your system, in discussions on measurement and strategy? What opportunities for deepening your understanding of your system and its effects have you missed?

What's next?

Driver A Treat every strategy as learning

Driver B Foster democratic participation

Driver D Build a democratic knowledge management cycle

Companion GuideDevelop Your Theory of Leadership