Quantifying the Impact of Business Services Using Project Outcome

October 31, 2016

By Amanda Armstrong, Business Librarian, Loveland Public Librar, CO / 18 October 2016

Web Junction Original Article 


Serving as the Business Librarian for Loveland Public Library is extremely rewarding. My clients are typically entrepreneurs or new business owners, so they wear many hats and face new issues on a weekly basis. To understand these challenges, I meet with the client, learn about their endeavor, and discuss what information might help them start or grow their business. Then, I provide customized research and training on the library's business databases.


Business clients are grateful for the help and amazed by the information that is available on library databases and reliable internet sites. It's great work, and I believe it helps contribute to the strong local economy of thriving small businesses and artists in Loveland and the surrounding area. At the same time, gratefulness is hard to measure and quantify, so I find myself with more clients every year but a constant number of hours in which to do the work.


By late March 2016, it was clear that I would see a major increase in business clients for 2016 and it would stretch my resources even further. During that same time, my manager, Amy Phillips, attended the Public Libraries Association 2016 Conference in Denver, and she attended the Project Outcome Enrollment Workshop. After that half day session, she knew there was a way to quantify the impact of our business services and more.


Project Outcome is a survey and data analytics tool kit that allows public libraries to measure the impact of a program or service and the degree to which it may change their behavior. The surveys were developed and standardized by experts, so that the entire public library community can collect and compare their data to benchmarks. There's a variety of different standardized surveys on topics ranging from early childhood literacy to digital learning.


My manager and I reviewed all of the available surveys on the Project Outcome website and agreed that the economic development survey was the best fit. The website has a page where you can see each survey and the questions, so this was a relatively painless process. Next, we had to decide who would receive the survey and how to distribute it. Luckily, I use a spreadsheet to track my business client research requests and it includes each client's name, e-mail address, information requested, date completed and much more information. Using my spreadsheet, I was able to identify all of the business clients that I had worked with for the past seven months.


The Project Outcome training she attended and the webinar I reviewed made it clear that people needed to know their responses would be anonymous, so I developed an e-mail template that stated their data would be completely anonymous and provided my manager's contact information for questions. I used a mail merge to personalize the e-mail with the client's name, and the survey was available online via a hyperlink. Knowing that people are more likely to act if there is a deadline, we requested a response within five days, and then noted that the survey will typically take fewer than five minutes to complete.


Within a week and a half, 37% of the respondents had completed the survey and provided many useful, insightful comments. On top of that, Project Outcome provided a wonderful report summarizing the results of the survey and providing lots of great information; it's a template but one would barely know from looking at it. Our results included:

  • 80% of business clients felt more knowledgeable about what it takes to establish a business
  • 90% felt more confident about establishing a business
  • 95% intended to apply what they just learned
  • 85% were more aware of applicable resources


Additionally, there was a data portal that showed the results from the individual survey and benchmarked it against the Colorado state and national averages. I was also able to download an Excel file with the complete survey results and comments, which I used to perform additional analysis and review the comments as they related to the scoring on the standardized questions. Overall, my manager and I were both very pleased with the information available, as it provides a great combo of pretty, easily interpreted information to share with stakeholders and data to analyze further.


I reviewed the surveys and especially the comments to see if there was any feedback that would help me to improve my services. Also, after becoming familiar with the survey questions, I realized that it would likely be helpful to many business clients if I put more emphasis on the resources and databases that are available from the library. Now during my consultation sessions, I always include an introductory portion where I talk about the resources and services available from the library and any other free resources that may be useful for their particular type of business.


My manager took the reports and a sample of the comments to a Library Board Meeting and several other meetings. Having the data at hand to reference and the ability to share the reports with the Library Director, City Manager and other stakeholders gave her an edge during the budget development meetings.


Since then, I sent out the surveys to the majority of business clients served between May and August. The response rate to these requests was extremely low (less than 5%), so I plan to send another bulk request later this year to the business clients I've worked with since June.


In the meantime, I'm working through additional business requests and meeting new clients with the knowledge that these services truly make an impact on their businesses and confidence.


I strongly recommend using Project Outcome to measure the outcomes for both business programs and services, because it provides another tool for measuring the efficacy of our work. I think this is particularly important in the area of custom business research, because, unlike a program, it's hard to see the person's reaction and gauge if the data you provided helped them move forward.