Debut at the Emirates

By Dan Corry 17 October 2011

The first week in a new job is a bit of learning process. Where you sit, where you put your bike, how the IT system works. Well I got all of that in my first week at NPC and so far so good.

But I also got the chance to be at the major Impact Conference that NPC had helped organise. My abiding memory will be that it meant that I made my speaking debut as NPC Chief Executive at the home of the Arsenal – something that is very hard even to write as a Chelsea season ticket holder. Don’t worry, I had my fingers crossed all the time.

But this packed out conference gave me a quick feel for how the whole charity, philanthropy and grant-giving sector is absorbing and responding to the idea that impact measurement and evaluation is firmly on the agenda.

Many charities are doing interesting and innovative things. Some are at the high end of the evaluation food chain, with randomised control experiments. Others are starting to use tools like the Outcomes Star in their casework or NPC’s very own Well-being Measure to gauge their impact on ‘soft’ outcomes. Others feel they will get more, at least at this stage, from focusing on their goals and thinking hard about their theory of change – in other words the process by which they think they are making a difference.

From the funders and commissioners side there were descriptions of the way that they are trying to pursue this agenda, what they are asking for in bids and tenders, what they expect in follow up monitoring and impact assessment. There was a particularly interesting input from the crucial local government side about what exactly they are looking for, especially in these times of tight resources.

So what did I come away with in terms of agendas and thoughts for work programmes for NPC? Well I think there is still understandable confusion about who should be doing what, how much of all this measurement and effectiveness is proportionate and when it becomes a crazy burden, biasing life too much towards what can be measured easily and what clearly saves the government money. There is also the urgent issue about whether the impetus (and the cash) for carrying out all this work should come from the charities and social enterprises or from the charitable trusts and the grant-givers.

But despite a few voices perhaps overstating the case against measurement (while rightly pointing out the dangers) there was no real resistance to the idea that this is an agenda that is not only fashionable but one that all of us concerned with solving the major issues of our time need to take up. Indeed I would say that my impression (in this non-scientific survey) was that for most – and as long as it is done sensibly – this is a concept to be embraced positively.

All of us at NPC will now try to digest these thoughts and lessons and see where we go to next. We are open to your views.