Funders yield more power and influence than charities in the social sector. If we are to correct this imbalance, we must all be transparent about our actions and impact. And shared measurement, where charities working towards similar goals reach a common understanding of what to measure and develop shared tools to do so, can be an important lever here.
Why shared measurement?
What shared measurement is, its process and what its benefits are has been already been talked about here, here and here. Through our experiences with the Youth Investment Fund, Building Connections Fund and NHS charities together, we find that shared measurement is a no-brainer – it enables funders and charities to come together and build a shared vision for their sector and have a stronger collective voice. It allows social sector players to share tools and resources, so that they can invest their valuable and limited resources into working with their users.
How do we make shared measurement more useful?
We, funders and charities, can still do more to make shared measurement more useful for accountability and decision making in the sector. To this end, we must invest in these four things:
The set-up of shared measurement
There is an African proverb – If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. My point here being, collaboration takes time. Therefore, in a shared measurement initiative, if charities are to collect good quality data in a timely manner and then use it as well, all partners especially funders and technical shared measurement partners must invest more time and resources in its set-up. We must invest in setting expectations about what the process will entail and the demands it will have on the time and resources of different partners involved, as well as in the dialectics that such collaboration entails.
Incentivise shared measurement within charities
The charity sector is resource constrained and funding for measurement is limited. Therefore, often charities end up collecting a lot of the data themselves. If charities are to collect the required amount of data and use it, they must incentivise their staff to go beyond their core function and do so. One way of doing this is to work with the leadership of charities to make measurement a part of their strategic priorities as well as the performance objectives of different teams.
Build capacity of charities
If charity staff that are not trained in measurement are to collect quality data, funders and technical partners must invest in building their capacity to do this. However, not each charity will face the same gaps in capacity or need the same support, with smaller community groups needing more handholding support, as has been the experience of Sported (a charity that support community groups for young people). Therefore, we must customise the support we offer here and enable charities to learn from each other as well.
Use digital tools
We can still do a lot more to use online management information systems to streamline data collection and to build dashboards to inform decision making. This way charities can directly enter data into the system and spend the time they would have spent on data collection or struggling with analysis on supporting their clients. Stakeholders can also have access to automated dashboards to see results that they can use to inform their decisions.
An example of such a dashboard is one my colleagues in India had built for a programme to improve the income of farmers by promoting the cultivation of pulses. We used Google data studio, a free platform, to build the dashboard. The management dashboard presented information on the scale of the project, farmers’ feedback on the training they received in farming practices and the change in their income over time.
These were some of the main messages I took away from our shared measurement session at NPC Ignites last month, which included speakers from the Centre for Youth Impact, Sported, the National Lottery Community Fund and NPC. If we do not pay heed to these critical recommendations from the sector to build on shared measurement initiatives, we not only risk losing the momentum around the approach but also all the great benefits of shared measurement so far.