Impact Management: moving from theory… to practice… to an entirely different metric – “Responsiveness”!

Ben Carpenter, CEO of Social Value UK, shares his insights on moving from impact management theory to effectively responding to the needs of those you work with.

A problem shared is a problem halved, so the old saying goes. Well I’m happy to say that as part of the Impact Management Programme we have been doing just that through the creation of peer networks for charities and social enterprises to come together and discuss impact management. The meetings are lively, practical and it feels like this thing called ‘impact management’ is really taking shape and capturing imaginations.

Impact management means regularly analysing and responding to the data you collect. Specifically;

  • Using data/information to change and improve products and services.
  • Integrating data/information into strategy and performance management processes.

In each session, we start our thinking from a position of strength: are we all already doing impact management? The answer is yes!

Put to one side the term ‘impact management’ and just consider whether we, as staff of charities and social enterprises, are making changes to our work, trying to improve the service we provide? Of course we are. As one person remarked: “It’s just what we do isn’t it?”. I’ve written about this before but it Is worth repeating: we are all already doing some sort of impact management.

Moving from theory to practice.

The challenge of course is to make sure that we are doing more impact management and by more I mean using different types of information to make decisions. If we think about the five types of data, it was easy for most organisations to think of examples of how (1) user data, (2) engagement data and even (3) feedback data have led to a change in the way services are being run. For example; “the young people told us they wanted more opportunities to play competitions… So we set up a league and now we see more young people staying involved with our service”. But when it came to using (4) outcomes and (5) impact data the examples were not so close to hand.

In the spirit of active collaboration or to be more on trend with ‘action learning’ and ‘hackathons’ our peer network sessions explored practical ways to collect useful outcome and impact data. Together we discussed how and why it’s important to talk openly with beneficiaries (qualitative research) before we start designing questionnaires (quantitative research). Allowing your beneficiaries to inform what outcomes you measure seemed like a logical first step. We discussed the challenges of qualitative and quantitative data. We also explored how understanding which outcomes are ‘most important’ to beneficiaries can help with designing better services. Or, what happens if these outcomes would have happened with or without our activities. We didn’t always have the right answers but there was a surprising amount of ideas, plenty of tips on what not to do and some great practical solutions. Read Rebecca’s blog for information on Odd Arts impact management journey.

Our three top tips from the sessions were:

  1. Start writing down what changes you are making to your delivery.
  2. Think what information has led to that change.
  3. Ask yourself what other information could be useful to improve delivery?

What next…

Slightly giddy with the excitement that we are all doing some sort of impact management already we began to wonder, what if we could build up the trust and confidence of our funders through this notion of being responsive to what we hear from our beneficiaries? Would it be proof that we are managing our impact to be able to reel off or catalogue examples of how we have collected data and then acted upon this data. After all, isn’t that what we should be proving? Someone pointed out that part of the Care Quality Commission NHS reporting requires you to report, “This is what we heard and this is what we did!” – sounds like impact management to me.

Are you cataloguing your service development?

So, this may be a crazy idea but what do you think?

  1. We’d love to hear from charities and social enterprises, if you are cataloguing all the adaptations you make in response to engagement with your stakeholders and what it has taught you.
  2. If you’re a funder, how does this sound and do you request this information already?

We would love to hear your thoughts on this. Contact ben.carpenter@socialvalueuk.org. If you would like to attend a peer network session, find out more and book here.