Reflections on our impact data fringe event

A few weeks ago, along with many in the charity sector, I attended the NCVO annual conference. As well as listening to the interesting speakers and hosting a stand in the exhibition area, I also had the opportunity to run a ‘fringe event’ with Shehnaaz of NCVO Charities Evaluation Services (one of the partners on the programme).

I have to admit I wasn’t sure what the response would be to an 8:30am event about impact data…but I was pleasantly surprised! The turnout was great, with more people attending than we expected and lots of good discussion packed into the hour session. I guess data is a bit of a hot topic, with concepts like big and open data and data protection concerns often in the news. We recently asked our first Pathway cohort to help us prioritise the content we develop and I think it’s telling that the data category had the most mixed response.

Our focus is on the data that organisations currently collect and how best they can use that. In the session, after a brief introduction to the Impact Management Programme, we asked people to discuss this - sharing challenges and successes and then reporting back to the room. As always it was great to hear different organisations perspectives and experiences. Lots of common themes came up around culture and leadership, data collection and analysis, attribution and time/resource constraints. Funder requirements were another major issue, with some frustrating examples of multiple requests for information and ‘hoop jumping’ to secure grants.

Often people find the difficulties easier to talk about, but we did also draw out some positive stories - such as a charity that developed a simple five question survey for their drop-in centre and another that invested in an 18 month transformation programme to get the focus on impact right. People generally felt confident that they were having a positive impact on the individuals they worked with and collected anecdotal evidence to demonstrate this.

What I found particularly interesting is that even a short session like this seemed to give attendees a genuine opportunity to take a step back and really think about what they are collecting and why. Questions like Who decides what data you collect? Who is looking at this data? How often? Is the data being used to make changes or improvements? help us get to the heart of the matter. We must keep asking these questions to ensure charities and social enterprises prioritise only the information that is useful for them to do their job better.

• The slides from the session are available here.