Image of data being analysed

There’s no Magic Way of Measuring Impact

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of measuring your social impact across multiple projects using a single dependable statistic? Well, I’ve got some bad news, and some good.

I was recently talking to a charity who wanted to know how if they could go about measuring and reporting the overall impact of the organisation on children and families. With multiple strands each aiming to achieve different things, they asked if a single outcome measure – one accurate, reliable number – to sum up the impact of the whole organisation was either possible or desirable.

First, here’s the bad news: it’s very unlikely – I might even be so bold as to say impossible – that any such thing exists. You might think you’ve found one that works but when you put in front of a critic (or a nitpicking critical friend, like me) it will probably get ripped apart in seconds.

Of course, if there is a measure that works across multiple projects, even if not all of them, you should use it, but don’t be tempted to shoehorn other projects into that same framework.

It’s true that measuring impact requires compromise but an arbitrary measure, or one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, is the wrong compromise to make.

The Good News

There is, however, a compromise that can work, and that is having the confidence to aggregate upwards knowing your project level data are sound. You might say, for example, that together your projects improved outcomes for 10,000 families, and then give a single example from an individual project that improved service access or well-being to support the claim. In most situations that will be more meaningful than any contrived, supposedly universal measure of impact.

Confidence is the key, though: for this to work you need to find a reliable way of measuring and expressing the success of each individual project, and have ready in reserve information robust enough to hold up to scrutiny.

Measuring Means Data

In conclusion, the underlying solution to the challenge of measuring impact, and communicating it, is a foundation of good project level data. That will also make it easier to improve performance and give you more room to manoeuvre. Placing your faith in a single measure, even if you can decide upon one, could leave you vulnerable in a shifting landscape.

 

Influence through Data

“Yeah, Says Who?” – Influence Through Data

You know you’ve achieved results – the data tells you so – but how do you influence sceptics to believe it?

It can be a rude awakening to take the findings of a study outside your own team or organisation, where trust and mutual support are more or less a given. In front of a wider audience of funding providers or other stakeholders, you will inevitably in my experience find yourself being challenged hard.

This is as it should be – scrutiny is a key part of a healthy system – but, at the same time, it’s always a shame to see an impactful project or programme struggle purely because its operators fail to sell it effectively.

Fortunately, while there are no black-and-white rules, there are some things you can do to improve your chances.

Confidence = Influence

When I present findings I do so with a confidence that comes with experience and from really understanding the underlying mechanics. But if you’re not a specialist and don’t have that experience there are things you can do to make yourself feel more confident and thus inspire greater confidence in your audience.

First, make sure you have thought through and recorded a data management policy. Are you clear how often data should be entered? If information is missing, what will you do to fill the gaps? What are your processes for cleaning and regularising data? Is there information you don’t need to record? A professional, formalised approach to keeping timely and accurate data sends all the right signals about your competence and the underlying foundations of your work.

Secondly, use the data as often as possible, and share the analysis with those who enter your data so that they can understand its purpose, and own it. Demonstrating that your data is valued and has dedicated, accountable managers hugely increases its (and your) credibility.

Thirdly, take the initiative in checking the reliability and validity of your own tools. If you use well-being questionnaires, for example, take the time to check whether they are really measuring what you want to measure in most instances. In other words, try to find fault with your own approach before your stakeholders so that when they find a weak point you have an answer ready that not only reassures them but also underlines the objectivity with which you approach your work.

Own Your Data’s Imperfections

Finally, and this might feel counterintuitive, you should identify the weaknesses in your own data and analysis and be honest about them. All data and analysis has limitations and being clear about those, and the compromises made to work around them demonstrates objectivity which, again, reinforces credibility.

In conclusion, the better you understand your own data and analysis, flaws and all, the more comfortable and confident you will feel when it, in turn, comes under scrutiny.

Social impact webinar

Webinar: Make 2020 the Year of Social Impact

On both sides of the Atlantic, our clients are working hard to think of new ways to deliver vital services to their clients: the homeless, the refugee, offenders.  They are often the people who are most likely to be at the margins and their needs are urgent.  So, now is a time for adapting services to the weeks of lock-down and shelter in place orders. And at GtD we are adapting the ways in which we are delivering our services and helping our clients.

While we wait for the pandemic to subside, the needs of our clients and yours remain pressing, and that will continue long after CoVid19 becomes yesterday’s news. However, I doubt that we will go back to work just as we did before we heard about social distancing and self-quarantining.  When we do go back to work, we will be asked to do things in new ways, to answer new needs and to find new partners to work with.

2020 is GtD’s “Year of Social Impact” when we are encouraging non-profits and charities to think about new ways of demonstrating their social value – definitively. We started out with a roadshow of events in Atlanta and then London, meeting with leaders from the nonprofit sector, listening to their needs and telling them about how our “Measure”, “Learn” and “Prove” packages can assist them.

We were due to take the roadshow to Manchester on April 28th.  Instead, we will be delivering the event as a webinar and inviting people to attend from across the UK and the USA.  This is bound to be a fascinating meeting as we share experiences across the Atlantic and hear more about how GtD’s social impact analytics are helping non-profits on both sides of the ocean.

The webinar is free and we have made it easy to join.  To register, please use this link and learn more about how to attend.

At times like this, we need to keep going as best we can and re-evaluate our priorities. Today, I received some words of wisdom from a valued client and jazz aficionado.  He and I were talking about how best to address the needs of those who have no medical care in rural Georgia. We had to suspend some work and address the new priorities thrown up by lockdown, and so I would like to share his words with you:

“What we’ve been doing lately reminds me of an announcement Louis Armstrong made during an interruption in one of his concerts, “And while they’re fixing the mike, we are going to lay on you our very best version of ‘Tin Roof Blues’”. Getting important things done during times like these can be helpful both to our projects and to our morale”.

Jack and I hope to meet you at the webinar but please contact me on alan.mackie@gtd-us.com if you have any questions. In the meantime, we wish you all the best as you address your new priorities and redouble your efforts to serve your clients.

Prove your social impact

Social Outcomes: The Road to Success is Paved With Good Intentions

I have often said that hardly a week goes by when I don’t encounter an individual or group of people working hard to make the world a better place. Often these people are working with those who are existing on the edge of society: the homeless who are ignored on our streets; refugees who feel that every hand is turned against them; the sick and frail who have no access to local medical provision; or individuals who are unfairly caught up in the “penal-industrial complex”. In every case, I see individuals and groups who have recognized a social need and have a clear intention to address it.

Resourcing & Focusing an Intention

While a good intention is essential to articulating a program’s vision, mission and rationale, intention alone is not enough. All our clients, however, will be able to explain the need for their work and can identify the time, money other resources that are required to make a positive difference.  As Jack and I have written in recent blogs, GtD’s “Measure” and “Learn” services assist our clients to enhance their work. In the case of “Measure” we are helping our clients to ensure that their good intentions are properly resourced, and with “Learn” we are applying sophisticated predictive analyses to make sure intentions are correctly focused for maximum benefit.

Intentions & Results

Some years ago, I came across the following quote from the American economist and Nobel Laurette, Milton Friedman, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results”. Like many familiar quotes, we are often unclear about their original context or intended meaning.  Often, however, Friedman’s quote is used against government intervention. In other words, it is used as a counsel of despair that government intervention usually makes matters worse. I don’t know if that is what Friedman intended, but it is generally an absurd conclusion. That said, often GtD’s clients are working hard to complement public services or are providing services to client groups where government bureaucracies would fear to tread.

Proving your Intention

Friedman’s words do, however, support the desirability that well-intentioned programs should deliver good results. I am sure that few people would dispute that, particularly GtD’s clients who are increasingly looking for definitive evidence of the value of their work. This is where our “Prove” service is in demand. Sometimes our clients need the evidence to prove the effectiveness of their work to their funders. More often, however, their quest for evidence is part of their commitment to delivering the most effective service and ensuring that they are benefiting the very people they want to assist.

Our clients know the value of our “Prove” service, whether they are demanding to know the effectiveness of reforms to the youth justice system or requiring evidence of the benefit of innovative approaches to health provision in underserved rural counties. GtD’s “Prove” service not only delivers rigorous impact evaluation. It also provides clearly written reports that communicate key findings to a range of stakeholders, including funders, senior management, practitioners and users.

Turning Good Intentions into Successful Outcomes

An effective program starts with a good intention to help. Let GtD accompany you on your social impact journey through our “Measure”, “Learn” and “Prove” packages. Contact us today to learn more about the range of our services.

 

Learn from data

What You Can Learn From Your Data

In a world driven by data, it’s becoming increasingly important for social organisations to prove their impact – not just through what they say, but through cold, hard facts.

While many already collect information on the work they’re doing, there remains a gap.

There’s a limit to what you can understand from the numbers alone, and simply reporting the data can feel far removed from the real-world and the day-to-day work done by the workers in your organisation.

For your information to become truly valuable, you need to start unpicking it. By applying the right methods of data analyses, you should be able to learn from your data and to use the insights you draw out of it to make practical changes within your organisation. This approach to data analysis will allow you to optimise your resources and maximise your results.

More than that, you’ll be able to extract the story behind your successes, and use that to show the world the valuable social impact your organisation is achieving.

Empower your staff

Looking at the data alone, it can be difficult for practitioners to know where to concentrate their efforts, and where changes to their service are most needed. But with the right analysis, the data you already have can be transformed into immensely valuable information to guide practitioners’  decisions, and highlight areas for improvement.

Learning from your data can give your practitioners insights on their individual clients, on how the team is performing, and on the organisation as a whole. It means they’ll know exactly what you need to target, and how to fine-tune your service to achieve the best possible results.

Understand your beneficiaries

No doubt you have worked in your sector long enough to know that your clients are not all the same. By applying the appropriate analytical techniques, you can understand the differences between clients and tailor your services to their varying needs.

Methods like segmentation and cluster analysis allow you to pick out patterns across different groups of people with different characteristics, and identify not only “what works?”, but “what works for whom?”.

Predict future outcomes

Your data can tell you not just what’s happened to date, but the outcomes that your organisation could produce in the future.

This can be done by applying scenario and simulation analysis, to predict the potential results of a variety of situations. These predictions should update dynamically, changing over time as other conditions change.

What’s really valuable about these predictions is that you can use them to optimise your resources, and to expend them in a way that will have maximum effect. That’s important for any organisation to know, but particularly helpful for non-profits and social enterprises whose resources are often limited.

Know your social impact, and prove it

Learning from your data gives you the confidence of knowing – not just hoping – that what you’re doing works. It lets you know that you’re making a real impact in your field, but perhaps more importantly, it offers assurance to the people who are looking for that proof.

Your funders and stakeholders need to have confidence in what your organisation is achieving, and by analysing your data you can give them just that.

To take a  youth service as an example, a potential funder might want to know how much of a difference the organisation is making to youth unemployment in the area. In answer, it could use examples from the analysed data, and effectively demonstrate its improvement in comparison with a control group.

By telling the story of its impact, backed up with concrete evidence and analysis, the youth service would be able to provide a much more convincing argument than it would be, using the raw data alone.

Learn from your data with GtD

Get the Data works with organisations in the UK and the US that want to prove their impact on society. We provide social impact analytics in the form of three main packages: Measure, Learn and Prove.

Our Learn service sits in the middle, making it a perfect next step for organisations that have collected data on their service but need to understand it better in order to use it. “Learn” can also be used in combination with our “Measure” and “Prove”  services, in any order that suits you.

Beginning with a strategic review of your data, we’ll put together an insight strategy and follow up with regular reports to monitor the results – integrating those reports with your own systems so they’re dynamic, useful, and convenient to use.

If you know you could be doing more to learn from your data but you’re not sure where to start, take the first step and contact us today.  We will get you started on your social impact journey.

Use Data to Tell an Effective Story Get The Data

Use Data to Tell an Effective Story

Over the past eight years, GtD has been providing social impact analytics to tell our clients’ stories. Effective stories of what their interventions do, who they work with, and the difference they are making to the people they serve: the homeless, young people, public defenders, refugees and immigrants. But, while we are primarily using numbers rather than words to monitor and evaluate our clients’ work, we need to take care that we are following the golden rule of story-telling.

Golden Rule of Story Telling

The golden rule is that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve just finished Sir Ernest Shackleton’s “South”, the Edwardian explorer’s account of his trans-Antarctic exhibition. The story opens in the months just before the First World War, with the preparations for the expedition, all the charting and planning and the resources being loaded on to his ship “Endurance”. The middle of the story is about the embarkation from Plymouth and the ship sailing into the South Atlantic, and then Shackleton leading his crew across the mountains and glaciers of Antarctica with the constant charting and re-charting of their route to safety. The tale ends with the crew’s rescue and return home. While Shackleton did not achieve his stated objective, “South” provides a compelling account of how a leader at times must respond to adversity by altering course and deploying available resources to the best effect.

Many organizations that work to make a social impact use words to tell the value of their work. This is, often done in the form of case studies that tell their clients’ stories. I recently came across such a case study in the annual report of a London-based homeless charity. It tells a compelling story about the effectiveness of their work with a client referred to as “David”. David came to London looking for a job, but soon became homeless and was found by the charity’s outreach worker sleeping rough. Having set out the “beginning” of David’s story, the case study then provided an account of the outreach worker’s role in helping David find hostel accommodation and registering him with a doctor and the benefits agency. The story ended well for David, as he found employment, a home and was returned to good health. A simple but effective story that informed the reader about the charity and how it benefits its clients.

The Descriptive Power of Numbers

Like an epic adventure or a compelling case study, we can use numbers rather than words to tell an effective story. However, before we do so, we need to get our story straight and give some thought to which data should provide the “beginning”, the “middle” and the “end”. If we get this right, then the story can follow the golden rule. So, in telling David’s story with data, we should start at the beginning and identify all those things that contributed to the delivery of the outreach service. We call these “inputs”, and they might include the number of outreach workers employed, their shifts, and the training they received.

Next, we will want to find the numbers that describe the services that David received. These are known as “outputs” and will include the number of contacts with the worker, the time taken to make referrals to the general practitioner and the benefits agency, and the contacts with the local hostel. Finally, we need to find the numbers that will describe the “outcomes” that were achieved for David, which will include changes to his employment, accommodation and health. Of course, we will be collecting these input, output and outcome data for David and every other client seen by all the outreach workers.  This will become an aggregated database of information that will tell a much broader and compelling story of who the charity helps, how it helps them and what outcomes their clients achieve.

Telling your story with GtD

Telling an effective story is essentially what GtD’s “Measure” package is all about.  It will help your organization monitor its activities and evaluate its outcomes. Contact us today if you want to learn more about how “Measure” will help your organization realize the potential of its data. “Measure” will assist you in deciding what to measure and what data to collect. It will provide you with analyses to solve problems and achieve better outcomes. “Measure” doesn’t just give you data, it gives you data to tell an effective story.

If you’d like to learn more about social impact analytics and how it can benefit your organisation, come along to our free event in Manchester on 28th April. Visit our events page to learn more and book your place.

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey Get The Data

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey

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.

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey Get The Data

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.

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey Get The Data

 

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.

A New Year’s Resolution?

A New Year’s Resolution?

New Year’s Eve, and time to take a moment to make a resolution for 2020.  Last year, according to the Statistica website, 71% of Americans resolved to diet and eat better in 2019 with a further 65% intending to exercise more.  It is not unexpected, perhaps, that 8% of those making resolutions failed to keep it within hours of the New Year being rung in, but a whopping 16% claimed to have kept their resolution for two to four months!

New Year’s resolutions are about making changes and adopting better habits. They are often personal in nature, but have you thought of making a New Year’s resolution for your organization? In the course of 2019, have you ever wondered how to measure the difference your organization is making on society?  As we peer into 2020, are you curious to see how your organization can improve the services it delivers to your clients? Is it now time to get the evidence to demonstrate your organization’s impact – definitely?

If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”, then come along to our free seminar on Wednesday, 8th January in London and learn more about “Measuring” your activities; “Learning” how to make a real difference; and, “Proving” your impact definitively.  For more details and how to book your place for this event, please go to http://bit.ly/SocialImpactSeminar.

Resolve to make 2020 the year you and your organization improves its social impact – and be sure that GtD will be with you every step of the way so that this will be one resolution you will keep.

Join us for a social impact journey seminar

Book Your Winter Getaway – Now!

The holiday season seems to be a time for journeying. As the school nativity plays remind us, the first Christmas saw the little donkey carry Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the “star of wonder” led the Three Wise Men to the stable. Today, thousands of British and American travelers will drive and fly home to be with family for the holidays.  And, no sooner is the festive period over, than hundreds of us will be heading to the ski slopes and beaches for a dose of much-needed sunlight. Winter is, indeed, a time for journeying.

At this time GtD’s London-based team invite you to join us on a journey. Unlike the Winter Getaways you see advertised in the press and television, we are offering to take you on a journey to understand your organization’s impact on the communities and people it serves.  At GtD we call this your “social impact journey” and we will travel with you to gather data, unlock its meaning and use it to demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.  Each of these is a stopping point on a single journey.

If you are interested in learning more, then you are warmly invited to join a free seminar on Wednesday, 8th January in London. For more details and how to book your place for this event, please go to http://bit.ly/SocialImpactSeminar.

GtD’s “Winter Getaway” doesn’t promise you golden beaches or pristine snow, but it will give you a good start to the new year as you and your organization embark on your social impact journey.  We look forward to seeing you there.

Closed eye image to illustrate measurement of qualitative data

More Than Eyes Can See? – Measuring Relationships

As our name implies, Get the Data is concerned with collecting and understanding quantitative empirical data. At the expense reprising scholarly debates about objectivity and truth, it is the Western empirical tradition that informs our research and the work of our clients who are engaged in criminal justice policy and practice. In other words, we want to measure things that can be touched, seen and realized by our senses.

Since the early 90s, much of my work has been the production of empirical data on the operation of the criminal justice system. As a young Home Office researcher, I cut my teeth in the back row of Sunderland magistrates’ court counting the reasons for cracked and ineffective trials. And it continued from there: reviewing police counting rules, measuring youth re-offending, tracking the attrition of DNA evidence from a crime scene to conviction in court.

The development of criminal justice policy demands the rigor of these empirical measures. So, I am proud of my colleagues who provide cutting-edge social impact analytics to a range of clients, from the Ministry of Justice and Sodexo Justice Services to smaller not-for-profits who work with offenders, such as Street Soccer Academy and Best for Pets.

That said, I was struck by two guest blogs that we published earlier this year.  Both Ilham Askia and Prof. Darrick Joliffe wrote about the growing interest in understanding the importance of the relationship between public defenders and offender managers and their respective clients.  Understanding the importance of these relationships is a departure from the measurement of objective outcomes that are recorded in either a police custody suite or pronounced in the court, and I am delighted that GtD is at the forefront of this innovative work.

A few years ago, I read “More Than Eyes Can See”, Rhidian Brook’s account of his nine-month journey in Africa, India, China and the U.S. to detail the Salvation Army’s response to the world-wide AIDs pandemic. By his own account, Brook was initially critical of the efficiency and effectiveness of local efforts to bring relief to those with HIV/AIDS and their families who were often ostracized by the community. Slowly he realized that for many there could be no “good” outcome: there is no cure and palliative care is too expensive for the most vulnerable.  So, in his words he admitted that, “I was slow to spot it really – focused as I was on empirical ways of measuring success – but [it was] the small acts of kindness that were holding things together. They weren’t the added extra, the bonus; they were it … After a while I stopped trying to measure the efficiency of these visits and see them for what they were: self-giving, sweaty acts of love”.

Relationships matter, even if just for their own sake. If the relationship between your organization and its clients is important to you, then please contact either Jack or me. We will be happy to discuss our ground-breaking approaches to measuring those things “that the eye cannot see”.