Jack, Jay and I were delighted to host our London social impact seminar last week. We are very grateful to all who took the time to join us and contribute their thoughts and experiences. As with every good seminar the learning was a two-way process. So, we talked about the social impact journeys we have been travelling on with our clients but also learned from our guests’ experiences of making a social impact.
In introducing the seminar I noted that everyone in the room had a common cause: to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in society. Most of the attendees represented national and London-based organisations that are concerned with mental health, homelessness and young people. As always, Jack, Jay and I were struck by the commitment and deep knowledge that our guests brought to their work. So what, asked one attendee, was our interest in working with these groups? A great question and my answer was straightforward: my colleagues and I simply want to provide our analytical expertise to demonstrate the value of our clients’ work.
Talk about data and analyses can often seem abstract and there is a danger that it might reduce vital work with vulnerable people to a calculus of efficiency and effectiveness. To avoid that, we were able to tell stories of how our work has helped other organizations to measure their impact, learn how to improve their services and demonstrate the success of their programmes. Sometimes our work is used to demonstrate the value of a policy change or justify funding, but often our work simply helps managers and front-line workers think about their practice and keep track of the various services and activities that they deliver.
A valid concern that arose was how to avoid treating a vulnerable person as a unit of analyses rather than an individual with real needs and wants. This concern included how best to engage vulnerable people in the analyses to ensure that they can provide their voice and experiences. This is a very current topic in the practice of evaluation. For GtD’s part, we ensure that our work with vulnerable people is undertaken sensitively and in accordance with ethical standards, and that the processes of data collection and analyses do not further marginalize individuals and groups who have been excluded by institutions and society at large.
In concluding the seminar, I reflected that the best social impact journey is one that is taken together. The success of the journey will require trust and mutual respect between the analysts, workers and clients. I believe that the stories we told last week provide good illustrations of how GtD forge working relationships within which to deliver expert analyses and insight.