Outcomes Measurement Symposium Deliberates Issues in the Human Services

The Center hosted a National Symposium on Outcomes Measurement in the Human Services on November 9 and 10, 1995. Held on the campus of Columbia University, the symposium brought together an interdisciplinary group of 300 practitioners, administrators, policy analysts and researchers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Israel to examine outcomes measurement in the human services. The symposium provided a forum to critically examine the issues and methods of outcomes measurement in the human services. Participants explored various aspects of outcomes measurement with special attention to the areas of physical, mental and behavioral health and services to children and families. The symposium was convened because of the importance of carefully considering outcomes measurement as the nation engages in a re-examination of the purposes of social interventions and desired outcomes. National debates regarding health and welfare reform have and will continue to focus attention on outcomes - - both intended and unintended. The research community in particular needs to add to this discussion by addressing the tough issues of outcomes measurement. While the topic of outcomes measurement has and will continue to be discussed in many forums, the issues have inherent relevance to the social work profession, a core group providing social services. 

Outcomes measurement requirements are already reshaping the nature of social work practice, social agency programs, and organized service systems. This reshaping will continue during the next decade. 

The symposium examined the following questions:  How can outcomes measurement be usefully reconceptualized and placed in historical, public policy, administrative, practice and research contexts? 

What is the legislative and public policy context of outcomes measurement - - why is there a need to address outcomes in a measurable way? 

What approaches to outcomes measurement are being promulgated? 

What is known about the reliability, validity and quality of existing approaches to outcomes measurement and their relevance for social work interventions? 

What are the implications for social programs and for practitioners of the increasing attention to outcomes measurement? 

What are the implications for future research? 
Although outcomes measurement is a broad topic the symposium focused on how it is being redefined in the context of public policy. Social work has long been concerned with evaluation of effectiveness. Recently the managed care context has pushed the profession toward thinking of outcomes measurement as an integral part of service delivery. The symposium provided an opportunity to rethink outcomes measurement in this new context. While the focus was on implications for social work, the expertise pertaining to this topic was considered to be interdisciplinary. Accordingly, presentations were made by experts from various professions and disciplines. 

The symposium planning committee included Robert Abramovitz, Rita Black, Grace Christ, Steve Cohen, Bruce Grellong, Andre Ivanoff, Lawrence Martin, Brenda McGowan, Rami Mosseri, Anne O’Sullivan, Helen Rehr, Doris L. Rosenberg, and Annaclare van Dalen (Edward Mullen and Jennifer Magnabosco ex officio). Rapporteurs were Michael Arsham, Mark Cameron, Paul Cavanaugh, Joseph Frisino, Yvone Johnson, Katina Georgopolas, Louisa Gilbert, Mark Holter, Dara Kerkorian, Gary Mallon, Anne O’Sullivan, Michael Powell, Jeanette Schiff, Karun Singh, Julia Rothchild-Stewart, and Elaine Walsh. 

This was the third national conference sponsored by the Center. The previous two conferences examined the relationship between practitioners and researchers in the development of social work practice knowledge. All three conferences resulted in scholarly publications which broadly disseminated the deliberations. A book based on the 1995 symposium is being published by the NASW Press in June 1997 titled Outcomes Measurement in the Human Service edited by Edward J. Mullen and Jennifer Magnabosco. 

The symposium was supported by gifts from the Virginia and Leonard Marx Foundation, the Beatman Foundation, and David S. Lindau. A symposium reception hosted by David and Josie Lindau was held in the Rotunda of Columbia University Low Library.