Charity conference atendees

7 reflections on measuring impact

By Anne Kazimirski 16 October 2013

What does the chief exec of a building that hosts social enterprises, the executive director of Which? and the Director General of the Ministry of Justice’s Criminal Justice Group have in common? They all discussed measuring impact at yesterday’s conference, hosted by NPC and Third Sector.

It was a great place to find out the latest concerns, ideas and challenges for small and large charities and social enterprises, funders, commissioners and impact measurement experts, with advice from the business perspective too.

Here’s what I came away with:

1. Turn an art into a science. Everyone in the voluntary sector has at least a rough idea of what they are trying to achieve, but there’s nothing like developing a theory of change to pin it all down. Graeme Duncan from Greenhouse described the theory of change process as turning an art into a science.

2. Acknowledge that success is quite a road for many. Clive Martin from Clinks emphasised the importance of acknowledging and measuring intermediate outcomes. Success is quite a road, whether you’re talking about giving up smoking or preventing reoffending, and we need to measure changes along the way.

3. Consider what is already known. A good evaluation plan states what is already known, based on existing research evidence, as Adrienne Skelton from Big Lottery Fund pointed out. Making use of existing evidence is always an important first step before starting any new data collection.

4. Engage your staff. Norman Blissett from Family Action challenged us to design systems that engage emotions. One way to make sure everyone is engaged in data collection processes is to consult as much as possible on theories of change—the investment of staff time will pay off later.

5. Make time to think. Think about your approach to learning and try to build in time to think and reflect, as David Hounsell from The Children’s Society enthused. Don’t just do things one way because that’s how they’ve always been done.

6. Make demands of funders. Barbara Storch from Impetus—The Private Equity Foundation urged charities to ask their funders what data they collect, and for that data to be shared. This was in the context of data on spending as well as the impact of that spend.

7. Invest in the future. And as many agreed on the day, investing in impact measurement is investing in your future. Good data on your impact will help you improve your services and retain funding. What greater incentive do we need?

Thanks to all who attended, and of course to our wonderful speakers.