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Learning lessons from NPC’s Well-being Measure

As I explained in an earlier blog, we will be taking stock of our Well-being Measure in the next six months. As an organisation that is committed to learning from failure, and in the spirit of open-source development, we believe it is important to share our reflections on what we have learned. We hope these insights are useful for others, including anyone involved in creating and promoting digital solutions.

  1. It’s difficult to develop a digital product without in-house skills. We worked with some great tech partners to build and develop the Well-being Measure, but ultimately it was both too costly to rely solely on an external agency, and too risky. We didn’t always know the ins and outs of the technology solution well enough to effectively manage that relationship. If I’d known then some of the great organisations I know now, like Founders and Coders for example, I’m pretty sure that NPC would have benefited from their training and been a better client to our agency partners, and a better product manager. We still believe in the power of digital but next time we’ll make sure we have the expertise we need to make the most of it.
  2. There isn’t a business model if there isn’t demand. I know this insight isn’t going to revolutionise MBA courses around the globe, but it’s worth saying. While we did initially invest in marketing to reach the range of schools and charities we hoped would sign up to the service, we weren’t able to unlock the level of demand we needed to continue to justify that marketing spend.
  3. It’s hard to run a digital product on a charity business model (though not impossible). Ultimately, we’ve had to close down the Well-being Measure because it wasn’t a sustainable enterprise—the technology costs weren’t justified by the revenue it was generating—and because NPC is a charity, that can’t afford to plough funds into this on an ongoing basis.
  4. Most charities don’t know precisely what they want to measure, to understand their social impact. That means that providing a measurement tool that focuses on one specific set of outcomes related to subjective well-being probably narrows the market for such a tool to the point where it’s not sustainable. We found the charities that knew what they wanted to measure and had determined that was young people’s well-being was much smaller than we’d projected.
  5. Ultimately, there’s still a huge need in the charity sector for online tools that help organisations to measure their impact—collecting data, conducting analysis, providing reporting, and sharing data. While the software in this field is developing, it’s far from straightforward to find the right tools to turn the measurement frameworks that you have on paper into practical, useful systems and management information. I believe there’s also huge potential for open source and open standards in this space—wouldn’t it be fantastic if outcomes frameworks could be dropped into any software solution, and data was interoperable between them?

We remain deeply committed to helping organisations measure well-being and to the value of digital solutions in tackling social problems. We will be taking these lessons on board for future work, and we hope others are able to learn from them too.

We’d love to hear from anyone interested in discussing this further. Get in touch: Tris.Lumley@thinkNPC.org

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