I got a telescope for Christmas. Well, nominally it was for the kids, but I’ve been out there squinting down the eye piece in the freezing cold and giving it a go.
It turns out there’s quite a lot up there in the sky. When you look at a tiny patch of it through a telescope it becomes hard to navigate.
It feels a bit like that at NPC sometimes. You get engrossed in the detail of one area of work, then start to wonder how all the other things going on relate. So, for those who like to step back and see the bigger picture, here’s my naked eye view of the top three themes at NPC for 2018.
‘Doing with, not doing to’
For many, 2017 was gloomy—with society’s divisions laid bare in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. It can sometimes take a big upheaval like this to make us realise where the balance of power lies. And the voluntary sector is far from immune from these issues of power and privilege.
As Barrow Cadbury CEO Sara Llewellin put it at an NPC event a while back ‘part of what the Leave vote told me was to be more aware that parachuting into other people’s realities without consulting them is dangerous.’
Whether you refer to users, beneficiaries, people with lived experience or expert citizens, the conclusion is the same: the people we want to help need to be at the heart of an organisation’s work. From our work on user mapping and its role in digital design, integrating users into impact measurement, and increasing diversity—how to achieve this will be central to NPC’s work this year.
Of course, if you put users at the centre you might configure charity services rather differently—a topic our programme of work on charity partnerships and mergers will consider over the coming months.
Exploring new approaches to achieving change
Much of the change we’ve seen in recent years has not been in the voluntary sector’s favour. But many of the 400 charity leaders we involved in our State of the Sector research are working towards new approaches to achieving change—making the most of what they have got, rather than being hindered by what they haven’t.
Throughout the year we’ll continue to explore such approaches, aiming to help charity leaders understand their potential and share the experience of others. Asset-based approaches, redefining relationships with the state, systems change, making the most of digital technologies, and place-based approaches are some of the areas we’ll be looking at.
We think funders can do more too. Building on Grant-makers must learn new tricks, our provocation piece with the Lloyds Bank Foundation, we’ll be challenging funders to do more to achieve impact—both themselves and through the support they provide to charities.
Doing impact management wisely
In all of this, it remains vital that charities are able to establish whether what they are doing—be that new approaches or more of the same—is actually improving things.
Helping charities and funders to measure impact, learn, and improve results remains at the heart of NPC. This year will see exciting new resources for the sector, delivered through our work on the Impact Management Programme and Youth Investment Fund Learning Project, as well as an updated Inspiring Impact website. We’re committed to free, accessible and high-quality resources on impact management for the sector, so we’re also working on what this provision looks like in the future.
Organisations shouldn’t be working alone on this, or focusing only on ‘proving’ their impact. There’s a whole ecosystem of evidence out there that needs to be used and improved. This would drastically improve our impact practice in the sector and enable organisations to take proportionate approaches.
We’ll be pushing for the sector to think more in this way. And we’ll continue to provide advice to charities to help them navigate what is useful for them to do and—importantly—what isn’t. After all—you can’t star gaze without your feet planted firmly on the ground.