Using values to guide decision making

By Liz Gadd 18 January 2023 4 minute read

This is the second in a series on updating your charity strategy. Read Part One by Sally Bagwell here.

In an era of unending crisis, strategy becomes a process of ongoing decision-making. In such a context, you need to know where you want to go, but your exact route to get there may not be mapped out in detail at the outset. This is often called an ‘adaptive’ or ‘agile’ approach to strategy.

Responding to changes in your environment means making decisions. Sometimes your mission and high-level goals will provide enough of a steer to point you in the right direction. At other times you may reach a fork in the road where the right way forward may not be so clear. At these times, your values can be key to helping you make the right strategic decisions.

 

What makes a good values statement?

Too many value statements are well meaning but unclear, and of little use to decision making. There’s a lot we can learn though from developmental evaluation, which is well suited to complex, dynamic environments, where we are adapting quickly to meet changing needs. The concept of principles-focussed evaluation arose from this approach. Principles inform and guide our decisions and choices by telling us how to act, thereby making it easier to make the right decision in tricky situations.

An effectiveness principle is a statement that provides guidance about how to think or behave toward some desired result (either explicit or implicit), based on norms, values, beliefs, experience, and knowledge.

Michael Quinn Patton, Principles Focused Evaluation

In identifying organisational values, we often muddle up the two common definitions of values – the word can either mean ‘the regard we place in something’ or ‘the standards to which we hold ourselves’. Only the latter definition is useful for decision making. For example, you can hold being ‘hardworking’ or ‘passionate’ in high regard, but neither will help guide you in decision making. To be a useful guide, values need to be principles to which we hold ourselves – for example always working in a way that is ‘trauma-informed’ or ‘evidence-led’. Our principles are core to our very existence and the way we believe our work must be done to generate the impact we’re working toward.

 

Four examples of values and decision-making principles

The Homeless Youth Collaborative identified nine principles which are useful to decision-making:

The principles begin with the perspective that youth are on a journey; all of our interactions with youth are filtered through that journey perspective. This means we must be trauma-informed, non-judgmental and work to reduce harm. By holding these principles, we can build a trusting relationship that allows us to focus on youths’ strengths and opportunities for positive development. Through all of this, we approach youth as whole beings through a youth-focused collaborative system of support.

Homeless Youth Collaborative

Young Devon, identified building good relationships as central to everything it does. Andy Moreman, their CEO, says:

Building good quality relationships has become the one thing we aim to place at the centre of every piece of work with young people, partners and colleagues and underpins our decision-making and design processes. Since we took all of our work back to that core principle we have developed new services, turned down funding which didn’t focus on relationship building and seen staff engagement grow. Relationships have become one of the first lenses we use to consider all our work and that holds true both to our youth work values and a trauma-informed approach to supporting young people.

Andy Moreman, Young Devon

Children in Need’s principles are all about placing trust at the heart of grantmaking. They focus on the four principles of sharing power, acting flexibly, user voice, and purposeful partnerships.

BBC Children in Need works hard to deepen its impact as a funder and to increase the value of support it offers. We do this by focusing on the people and communities who need our support most, and by building meaningful partnerships with the organisations we fund. We will always collaborate with trust, humility, and curiosity.

BBC Children In Need Strategy 2022-2025

For the Environmental Funders Network, refreshed values are central to its (soon to be published) new strategy. Florence Miller, Director of EFN shares:

The process of developing our principles was hugely useful — we asked ourselves when we had been most effective and why, and from that conversation distilled what was most important to us as an organisation. The principles that resulted — such as ‘guided by nature’, ‘collaborative’ and ‘evidence-led’, each elaborated on in an active statement — will help us make decisions throughout the strategy period and have already provided clarity about where we add most value.

Florence Miller, Environmental Funders Network

 

Do your values hold as principles on which to make decisions together? For example, if you are one of the many organisations that includes ‘collaborative’ in your values, is that because you hold collaborative behaviour in high regard? Or because you mean to base your decisions on which option is most collaborative because you believe that will create the greatest impact? Are your values guiding your decisions and could further refinement help you to make better decisions more easily in difficult times?

NPC can support charities and funders in refreshing their vision, mission, and values as a part of our strategy support. For further information please contact liz.gadd@thinknpc.org.

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