In this blog, Richard McManus, Head of Evidence and Impact, and Rory Parker-Smith, Trusts and Grants Manager, discuss developing an organisational approach to impact at Rethink Mental Illness.
For more than half a century, Rethink Mental Illness has been improving the lives of people severely affected by mental illness.
Our approach has always been ‘impact-led’, but the meaning of that term has evolved over time—not just for us but for the entire sector. Our origins trace back to a group of dedicated carers seeking support and understanding for their loved ones with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Back then, the impact of our work was clear, it involved talking to our members and witnessing how the group was making a difference in their lives. Quantifying this impact, however, has always been a challenge.
Saying we do ‘good work’ is easy, but how do we measure and showcase this difference to our supporters, partners, and service users?
In May 2021 we received a grant from the Stone Family Foundation which was dedicated to improving how we measured impact across Rethink Mental Illness. The Foundation could see that our work was creating impact, but it was difficult to measure and often even harder to communicate.
At the time, we were monitoring each aspect of our work, sharing this learning internally and making sure that this was used to improve work across the organisation. The Stone Family Foundation transformed our thinking. While we’d always collected data on our services, the amount of time we spent monitoring our work depended on the service, and often on how much information our funders expected.
Gaining buy-in: an organisational approach to impact
The grant from the Stone Family Foundation gave us two years to develop a clear link between what our strategy said we wanted to achieve and the ways that we would measure that success. We envisioned an Impact Framework that would allow us to measure the social, people, and long-term impact of everything that our organisation does. We also wanted to know how much our services users’ lives are affected by things like their employment and housing status, income level, and physical health. Our Communities that Care approach is a blueprint to deliver a range of services to people who are severely affected by mental illness.
Generating knowledge: Engaging stakeholders and coproducing for impact
Before we could measure our impact, we needed to first work out what a good quality of life looked like to people with lived experience of severe mental illness and their carers.
We engaged with 150 staff members and coproduced with experts by experience (people severely affected by mental illness) through focus groups, interviews and surveys to fully understand what, and how, we would be measuring our impact. We also actively involved our Carers Advisory Board, Lived Experience Advisory Board, Board of Trustees, and senior leadership team. We even set up a lived experience group focusing specifically on evidence and impact, who support the Impact Framework as well as our ongoing work.
Ensuring that over 1,000 staff, numerous experts by experience, and countless external stakeholders had the opportunity to contribute to our Impact Framework was a monumental undertaking. It required significant time, expertise, and engagement, but we’re immensely proud of the results.
Doing the work so others don’t have to: accountability and leadership
Our Impact Framework outlines what we believe needs to happen to ensure that everyone severely affected by mental illness has the best possible quality of life. It makes clear what our role is in making this happen and identifies indicators (and ways of measuring these) that tell us how well we’re fulfilling our mission.
The framework will hold us to account. It ensures that we continue to reflect and improve, whilst achieving the greatest possible long-term impact.
We are privileged that we have the funding and people needed to deliver this work. We know that not all charities are in this position, especially smaller ones. We believe that by sharing what we’ve done, other organisations can lift from our framework the parts that might work for them, whether that’s around housing, finances, or physical health.
We know that the work we do has an impact at the on the whole health and social care system. For instance, since we began the Open Mental Health initiative in Somerset, there’s been around a 15% decrease in emergency department presentations for adults with a mental health need. We’re going to need to do more work to show this attribution, and ultimately, we are going to be using our Impact Framework to guide what we do and how we best use our resources to achieve our mission.
This is a journey of transformation, and we’re committed to driving even greater positive change for those severely affected by mental illness in the future.