risks ahead road sign

Impact measurement vs. calculated risk

By Guest contributor 22 October 2012

The Barrow Cadbury Trust is an endowed charitable foundation grounded in our founders’ Quaker values and an ongoing commitment to advancing social justice. Our approach challenges the structural barriers which exist in society and follows the historic Quaker imperative of ‘speaking truth to power,’ which for us means influencing public policy; synergising research with grassroots projects while emphasising the lived experiences of communities and individuals.

Our commitment is to catalysing social change—and as a relatively small player we are able to best realise positive outcomes through partnership working and a strategic approach. We are committed to making the most of all our assets, not just financial resources. In practice that could mean sharing our office space, or giving the support of our brand to a campaign.

It’s worth noting the traditional role of trusts and foundations as suppliers of ‘at-risk’ funding, prepared to pilot projects with a view to bringing them into the mainstream, so called ‘pump priming’. Yet as Diana Leat has pithily noted, there are a lot of rusty pumps scattered around Britain.

As a trust, we have always been ready to face risk, not by recklessly squandering capital on hazardous or ill-grounded projects, but by being prepared to take a punt when the outcome might not be immediately foreseeable or measurable by any standard impact framework. I would cite the example of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’s decision to fund the doctorate of exiled anti-Apartheid activist Albie Sachs. They could not then have foreseen that years later he would be the author of perhaps the most progressive constitution in the world, in the new South Africa. The long-term impact of that speculative funding decision was huge.

Our model is to consult broadly, because doing so confers legitimacy. We are a strategic rather than a responsive or volume funder; there is no hierarchy between these different funding models, they are simply different ways of working with different intents. Funding follows the strategy, with a concentration on the ‘back end’ in order to see projects through fully.

So how do we measure that impact, and what are the implications for grant seekers? Measuring impact is not something applicants do just to secure our funding; rather it’s about working in partnership to build an evidence base which will catalyse mainstream change. Candid dialogue with grantees is crucial and evidence should be gathered for real purpose, not to gather dust on a programme manager’s desk.

To illustrate our approach, I would cite the Transition to Adulthood (T2A) Alliance. Dating back to Geraldine Cadbury’s establishment of the world’s first juvenile court in Birmingham, the trust has a long-standing commitment to young people in criminal justice. In 2005 we launched a Commission on Young Adults and the Criminal Justice System, which led to the formation of a coalition of charities committed to promoting effective approaches for young people in the transition to adulthood throughout the criminal justice process. Pursuing a jointly agreed strategy, the alliance established three pilot projects scrutinised through robust formative, cost-benefit and outcomes evaluations. It now has real policy traction across the criminal justice process.

The T2A Alliance is a model which ties up resources over time, but crucially means that funds are spent exclusively on campaign strategy, not funding partners—so T2A has been able to focus on practical projects, and this year on PCC elections.

It would be remiss not to end with a word on payment by results. Savings to the public purse are not and cannot be treated as a proxy for social value. While a child spending a day not in care may seem like a good binary measure, if that child is brutally attacked on that day, there is no social value. Measuring the right things can be complex, but if we are to effectively evaluate social impact, it is crucial.

Sara Llewellin is Chief Executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, responsible, with the board of trustees, for the trust’s strategic direction and social impact. Sara is on the Governing Council of the European Foundation Centre, is the Vice-Chair of the Association of Charitable Foundations, and is a trustee of Charity Bank and serves on its Credit Committee. Sara was at the City Bridge Trust for a number of years and before that was the Chief Executive of St Giles Trust in South London. Her background is in social justice activism.

This blog is based on Sara’s presentation at our second annual impact measurement conference.