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Eye opening impact

By Guest contributor 22 October 2013

David Hounsell has been Economic Advisor at The Children’s Society for two years. Since the start of this year David has also taken on the role of Business Performance and Impact Manager, designing and implementing the tools and processes required for the charity to maximise its impact and measure the change.

Last week I had the enviable position of being both a speaker and attendee at NPC and Third Sector’s annual impact measurement and analysis conference. It was a day packed with insight and experience from a range of sector experts working within charities, public bodies and investment funds, all giving a different perspective on the impact agenda.

As someone heavily involved in making changes at The Children’s Society to improve the way we measure our impact, the day was both eye opening and reassuring. Despite the changes we’ve made over the past year, I realise now that there is still much to do (the clarity with which Greenhouse articulated their theory of change shows what can be achieved), but  I know we’re not alone in facing these challenges.

I sat alongside Fran Perrin from the Indigo Trust, Joe Ludlow from Nesta and Rebecca Wood from Alzheimer’s Research UK on a panel talking about how the sector can harness the power of data. My main themes for the session were to keep data collection relevant, to always involve stakeholders, and to embrace what data can do for your organisation.

At The Children’s Society we work with around 30,000 children and young people across 96 services and children’s centres. We also campaign on behalf of children and young people through changing legislation and changing public and professional attitudes. We do a lot and so keeping data relevant can be tricky. When choosing new tools and research methods we now ask ourselves the key question:  ‘is this relevant to our organisation’s strategy?’ Our strategy tells us who we should be working with, where, when and how, so if the answer to that key question is ‘no’ it’s likely that we won’t collect any data.

We also find that involving stakeholders makes selecting and analysing data more effective. It’s very easy to get a long way through a contract or to find yourself in front of a Government Minister without the evidence you need. By thinking about your audience’s needs, or even asking them up front, you can go a long way to having the right evidence when you need it. It’s also vital for us to involve children and young people in our work. Every new assessment tool we develop is co-produced with children and young people, and, at times, we also get them to support the data collection process.

Organisations should embrace data. Data that is relevant to your beneficiaries quite simply will improve your work if you set aside time to analyse and learn from it. Using data can also open up new audiences: a year ago we started an online datablog that creates maps, calculators and infographics using data that we collect ourselves or from other sources. We have already seen this open up conversations with new supporters, commissioners and policy-makers.

We’re only a year into our impact journey and this conference showed me where we need to go next. Hopefully the mixture of eye openers and reassuring views gave the delegates the enthusiasm and confidence to come back next year with even more impact success stories.