Counting feelings

By 4 December 2009

We hosted our first joint breakfast seminar with Charity Finance Directors’ Group and Farrer & Co yesterday morning entitled ‘Counting Feelings; the +s and –s of measuring children’s well-being’.

The event was testimony to the growing demand in the third sector to measure results and for innovative methods to do this—50 charities and funders attended and it sold out within 24 hours.

Sir Paul Ennals of the National Children’s Bureau chaired the event. He poignantly said ‘It is important not just that we value what we can measure but that we measure what we value.’ You can read my presentation on the NPC well-being questionnaire here.

Emma Ferris of the Outward Bound Trust gave a charity’s perspective, explaining how the NPC’s well-being questionnaire has helped them articulate their impact on children’s self-esteem and resilience. Alison Pollard of the Big Lottery Fund spoke about the importance of intelligent funding and supporting charities to measure their results.

The debate that followed was pretty lively. Some of the issues raised were around measurement in general and some were specific to well-being. Here are some of the main ones:

Context is crucial—charities need to think hard about the outcomes that are most important to their work. The well-being questionnaire enables charities to capture soft outcomes, but this should not be done at the expense of other objective measures of impact such as education and behavioural outcomes.

• We need to clarify the link between subjective and objective outcomes. Does happiness now lead to success later? Does well-being result in well-becoming?

• Should charities peer review each others’ research? It is felt that dialogue is crucial to ensure best practice is shared. We at NPC totally agree and have plans to include an online forum as part of the well-being toolkit so that charities using the questionnaire can share results and advice on designing and evaluation and using the questionnaire. It was also suggested that charities providing similar interventions might want to share results and set evidence-based benchmarks of success.

• Is there a conflict between human rights and measurement? Measuring results is important so funders can choose the best interventions. But, for example, shouldn’t young carers have the right to short breaks irrespective of long term impact?

There is also a pressing need for well-being questionnaires for other groups including young children, those with learning disabilities and sensory impairments, older people and internationally.

The enthusiasm for the NPC well-being questionnarie is really exciting. It is a step in the right direction but there is a lot more to be done. Dialogue is crucial. Events like this one move us closer to a shared understanding of what charities need to measure and the best ways to do this.