By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: While we focus on our work in the community and rarely shine a spotlight on ourselves, this series is designed to put faces and names to the great and challenging work United Way does every day.
While only at United Way of Greater Cleveland six short months, Matt Fedak works behind the scenes to compile and analyze data, create graphs and improve program measurement systems.
Bringing with him experience from Cuyahoga County’s child support and senior and adult services, he is working to find ways to optimally measure a social service program’s success, from social return on investment to quality of life metrics.
Using United Way data, Fedak determines the success of programs including the CMSD community wraparound strategy and analyzes the demographics of clients served. Fedak also combines census and survey information to determine which parts of the community have unmet basic needs.
But some of what determines a program’s success is immeasurable, Fedak said.
For example, someone who is chronically homeless or suffers from substance abuse may utilize emergency medical or shelter resources — which can be quantified in the amount of money their care costs agencies and providers. But it’s harder to place a monetary value on having a home or remaining sober.
“I’m hesitant to pin down monetary returns on everything because it’s hard to put a value on some things,” Fedak said. “What’s the value of sobriety, what’s the value of a life where you’re suffering from fewer PTSD symptoms? What would you pay to be sober, to not have an addiction?”
Measuring the value of impact
“There’s something qualitatively valuable inside the human social work experience and I like to leave room for that,” he said. “There’s certainly a place for outcomes more focused on [measurements] that embody the quality of life issue; and I’ve done a lot of research about quality of life, and it’s very difficult to pin something down into metrics.”
Working with Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services, Fedak tried to use World Health Organization’s (WHO) quality of life measurement to quantify the success of several programs. WHO’s quality of life model was hard to roll over, Fedak said, because it was designed to be applied to developing countries, but still gave him a place to start his research. The goal was to measure the intrinsic value of programs that allow seniors to stay in their own homes rather than live in an assisted living facility.
“I was able to pick up some of those links from WHO,” he said. “Certainly it was a little bit more of a stretch — going from an isolated village with just a medicine man or woman to a lifeline button to make sure the ambulance came when you needed it — but I was able to at least pull some sort of underlying access to medical importance.”
Ben Miladin, director of health at United Way of Greater Cleveland, worked with Fedak at Senior and Adult Services. Seeing the open analyst position at United Way, he suggested Fedak apply.
“I had a great experience working with him and I thought he might be looking for a new, exciting opportunity and he seemed like a good fit that could really benefit our department,” Miladin said. “Matt is a wonderful coworker who is extremely thoughtful, efficient and creative. He’s always been willing to go the extra mile.”
Admiring Fedak’s technical skills, Miladin said Fedak works to make Community Impact’s data presentable to board members and community partners.
At United Way, Fedak is working to develop a system to encompass the broad spectrum of human services impact. Breaking into three parts, he wants to measure the quantifiable, raw basic needs met, the fundamental economic benefit and — to an extent — the qualitative piece of services.
While Fedak is researching how to optimize social services measurement, he is also interested in internal optimization, including the relationship between Community Impact, Resource Development and the Marketing department.
“I like knowing how the whole organization functions,” he said. “There’s a lot of overlap between community impact and marketing and resource development — which are really kind of the three core areas. There’s a financial side, which is doing our budget and I’m somewhat interested in that. But between fundraising, fund distribution and marketing, that’s really the triangle of activity.”
“I’m interested in understanding how those teams interact and how we can align those teams to make United Way better at collecting money, dispersing money and communicating all those successes to the larger community,” he said.
Art and analytics
Bringing an artist’s eye to analytics, Fedak studied studio art as an undergrad after transitioning out of engineering.
He was drawn to art for its immediacy and ability to make ideas tangible, which are some of the reasons he said he enjoys working in analytics. Not making abstract art, but creating graphs that give an immediate picture of a community’s needs.
“It hasn’t been so much ‘this is what I’ve always loved to do,’” he said. “It’s more about what’s a position that fits what I like to do where I can analyze things with numbers but also with pictures. That’s the art piece I try to bring to it — taking all the analysis, what the program is trying to do and has done and get that out to the people.”
Outside of visual art, Fedak studied philosophy, which influenced his art and career path. Wanting to use his time as more than a monetary investment, he worked in government agencies and United Way to make a difference in the community.
“In America, it’s easy to slip into that ‘time is money’ mentality,” he said. “But I disagree with that, I think time is infinitely more valuable. I look at how many hours a week I’m at a job … and what you do during that time? Are you going to be making money for yourself or are you going to do something where you can say I bettered my community. It’s nice that it’s not just about the money, there really is something bigger and better happening here.”