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Your citizens have spoken. You have begun to spend your ARPA funds or have at least planned how to spend them. But how do you know if your spending is having an impact? To do that, you will need to gather two types of data.
Gathering financial data
Gathering the financial data is easy, as you have access to the obligations and expenditures incurred to date. You should break these items down by quarter to align with your quarterly U.S. Treasury Reporting requirements.
Non-financial data: Output measures
Gathering non-financial data will help put your financial data into context. Output data provides various examples, including how many people you have served, how many housing units you have rehabilitated, or how much community violence you have reduced.
Much like financial measures, non-financial output measures are relatively easy to collect compared to outcome measures.
Non-financial data: Outcome measures
Outcome measures are more qualitative than output measures and require judgment in reaching a conclusion. Examples of outcome measures include overall grade in the quality of existing public housing stock and an assessment of the improvement in student mental health. Such measures require consistent measurement and monitoring over time and a great deal of honesty.
ARPA was meant to be used for projects that "swing for the fences." Sometimes it's a single, sometimes a homer, but other times, it may be a fly-out to center. Don't be afraid to be bold, but always measure your effectiveness. Be transparent about results with spending well underway (and hopefully your monitoring). It is critical that ARPA recipients are actively monitored, just not in a "one size fits all" manner.
"Monitoring" ARPA recipients
Devote your most significant resources to the riskiest recipients, whom you should have previously identified during a risk assessment in earlier stages. Maybe this is the first time they have received federal funds. Perhaps they have had significant employee turnover. Maybe they have a complex project. All those characteristics call for greater oversight.
Physically visit the recipients, unannounced, if necessary. Check support documentation for their expenditures and non-financial data. Talk to project participants and employees. Do whatever you can to gather information on how the project is going. Visibility helps mitigate the risk of non-performance and non-compliance.
On-site monitoring of recipients is not always necessary. Some of your less risky recipients will not require that high level of monitoring. For those recipients, request more detailed information supporting expenditures. Make sure you match the support to the total amount requested. Additionally, don't forget to gather non-financial information for these recipients. If anything looks unusual, follow up. "Trust, but verify" is a great motto here.
If you provided an advance of less than 100% of the funds, don't give the next advance until you have support for the previous one. Lastly, never offer additional advance until the first is fully accounted for.
Now that you have accumulated enough verified data, it is time to tell your story.
Tell your story
The Government Finance Officers Association encourages governments to create popular reports to convey key financial and operational information in a more user-friendly format. Here are a few things to consider as you tell your story:
Paint the picture of how effectively funds were spent. Grab testimonials from participants and tell the stories of beneficiaries. Show the positive economic impact on the business and not-for-profit community.
Don't restrict yourself to just a narrative—present charts and graphs. Break the data down—by neighborhood, zip code, voting district, and other valuable demographics you believe your citizens will be interested in.
You can tell your story better than anyone, and you have timely, reliable data. More importantly, you have an obligation and an opportunity to share your story with transparency and demonstrate real value.
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