Impact management: Are we doing it already but we just don't know it?

Over the last few months I’ve been delivering impact management co-design workshops as part of the Pathway strand of the Impact Management Programme. This is a summary of what we’ve heard (from UK charities and social enterprises) and what we’ve learned so far.

At SVUK we regularly ask people to consider the audience and purpose for any data collection exercise before starting. The two main requirements are usually data to ‘prove’ impact to external audiences and data to make choices to try and improve impact for boards and management teams.

Most people that attended our co-design workshops saw impact measurement primarily as a process to ‘prove’ impact to funders and it is often seen as a chore. For most small organisations the process is fairly stressful as it’s linked to ‘measurement’, ‘evaluation’ and ‘monitoring’ which sound technical and are not part of the day-to-day work they do.

Collecting data for an internal audience to make choices - to focus on what could improve impact - is what drives impact management. Impact management should be a relentless, continuous drive to improve your services. Just like a business strives to maximise profit, charities and social enterprises should strive to maximise their social impact.

OK great, most people are nodding so far and it’s been great that participants at the workshops have all clearly identified that management is about using information to make decisions. But how do we do this? The stress returns!

The workshops have given us an opportunity to co-design and test what impact management might look like and what it might involve. This has led to some great conversations because as we unpick and define impact management together it seems that most organisations are already doing bits. It’s just they don’t call it ‘impact management’.

Here are some examples:

• A small charity running a foodbank realised that they were getting more and more people accessing their service (engagement data). They used that data to make the decision to open the foodbank 5 times a week rather than 2.

• Another charity (working with people with disabilities) collected feedback data that led to the creation of a new strand of activities that resulted in more people attending their services and clear improvements in health outcomes.

• And a social enterprise (providing services for young people) realised that most of the young people who need their service live in a different part of the city, so they decided to move the venue to increase participation.

All of these examples were easy for people to give. It is part of impact management but no one is calling it that—it’s just ‘what we do’. Of course it is. Small organisations are constantly listening to their stakeholders and reacting. Impetus-PEF refer to using of this type of data for decision making as ‘tactical management’.

This is exciting because we have an opportunity now to work together as a sector to make this informal practice more formal. We can co-create better systems and processes for collecting more data, more often, and most importantly making more use of it. This can lead to better service design and hopefully more impact. In addition, if we can make these processes more recognised by potential funders it may help these organisations to secure new investment.

Of course, there is still a long way to go. Organisations still need more support in collecting and analysing outcomes data (this is the data that people say is hardest to collect). But it is an important step for us all to recognise that impact management is something we are already doing in parts. It is also great that more broadly we are asking ourselves—what data do we need to make decisions? And what data is good enough to make these decisions? These questions are vital.

We look forward to continuing to co-design impact management resources and services with the sector over the next 12 months—and hopefully beyond—to help make this happen.

• Follow @Access_Impact for the latest updates on the programme.