Meaningful measurement

By Eibhlin Ni Ogain 2 March 2011

In recent years there has been a perceptible shift in the charity world in relation to results measurement and demonstrating value. The language we hear from charities talks more and more about outcomes, impact and value for money. This thinking is also making its way into government policy: payment by results is a big agenda of the coalition government and Barack Obama plans to spend $100m on “social impact bonds” in the US.

We are now seeing concerted efforts on the part of charities to measure and talk about their results. Working on various projects here at NPC, I have come across extremely dedicated individuals and organisations who are doing their very best to implement these systems. However, I have a concern for the future: today’s efforts are fragmented, one-off pushes to impact measurement from different organisations in different fields. This effort on evaluation is commendable but it only tells us how well an individual charity is doing. While it can give some indication of best practice or impact in a specific area, the lack of comparability means we are still left in the dark about what interventions work best and what should be scaled up.

The next step that now needs to be taken is a drive towards common evaluation systems and shared measurement. For different charities in similar fields, we need common goals and outcomes and a standardised way of measuring those outcomes. Not only will this allow us to see what works best in a sector but it will also demonstrate the value of that sector’s work on a wider scale. And, as my colleague John wrote yesterday, demonstrating this value is particularly pertinent right now as the Big Society plans of the coalition puts charities’ work in the limelight.

This is why 2011 will see NPC looking at different charity sectors and producing shared measurement frameworks. This is the next big leap that the sector needs to make. It is not only crucial to learning and improvement but essential to the people that charities help.

This is the first in a series of blogs about NPC’s shared measurement programme. We will be publishing shared measurement research pieces on youth offending, NEETS and mental health later in the year. So watch this space!