Occasionally when I visit the doctor for pain in my stomach or head, she asks, “How much does it hurt on a scale of 1 to 10?” and points to a chart with happy to excruciating faces and asks me to show her how I am feeling. It turns out that telling your physician, “My stomach is really sore” is not particularly useful for medical diagnoses, but the pain scale information provides more data for the doctor to rule out the most harmful of ailments. This tool, which quantifies often subjective symptoms, is one we can adopt in the social sector to measure the similarly ambiguous term, “self-sufficiency.”

Many of the nonprofit organizations and social enterprises with which we work have the goal of helping clients become more self-sufficient. While we conceptually understand what self-sufficiency is, like our body’s pains, it can be tough to articulate. One of the tools that we have found helpful in measuring this is called the self-sufficiency matrix. The matrix quantifies crisis to stable to thriving states (on a scale similar to the pain scale used in the doctor’s office) across multiple domains linked to self-sufficiency like access to food, housing, healthcare, income and more. For example, a household’s food needs would be considered in-crisis state if it could not afford its food and relied on food pantries for much of what it consumed. Conversely, a family would be considered thriving if it could shop at a place of its choosing, whether a grocery store or restaurant, for the food the family needs to survive.

Self-Sufficiency Matrix

The Self-Sufficiency Matrix in Practice
The self-sufficiency matrix sheds insight on how your clients are doing overall and allows you to dig into the details. For example, a residential program for single mothers and their children (also known as a two-generation program) in the Midwest uses an adapted matrix at intake, graduation and every year after to measure how its clients are progressing over time. The matrix has helped the organization communicate the progress its graduates make when they leave the program, i.e., from stability to thriving, and that they are able to maintain those levels of self-sufficiency. Using the matrix, the residential program has also found that it may be able to augment support to graduates in areas where they are struggling – for example, debt and emotional health – and has used the data to inform social return on investment analysis.

The self-sufficiency matrix is a fantastic tool that quantifies a state of well-being that is sometimes difficult to pinpoint. We hope you will consider using the matrix in your program evaluation and ask that you share how you have used this or similar tools at your organization. We invite you to join us next week as we take a deep dive into the best practices of first-generation college student programming.

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