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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.

 

Make Social Impact Your Goal! - GtD and Street Soccer Academy

Make Social Impact Your Goal!

I am delighted to be working again with Street Soccer Academy (SSA) to put evidence of their social impact at the heart of their work with ex-offenders. This important work has been made possible by a grant from the Access Impact Foundation whose mission is to make charities and social enterprises more financially resilient and self-reliant, so that they can sustain or increase their impact. Without the generous funding from the Access Impact Foundation we would not able to provide Street Soccer Academy with our powerful data analysis.

Street Soccer Academy is a great client to work with. They use professionally organised sports-based programmes in the rehabilitation and reintegration of people from some of the nation’s hardest to reach groups, including ex-offenders. Our task is to prove that SSA’s pro-social models are affecting the attitudes and thinking of the men and women with whom they work, with particular emphasis on their relationships and roles in society.

In the coming months we will be using our rigorous social impact analytics to contribute to the knowledge of what makes ex-offenders desist from crime. Our previous evaluation of the academy’s prison to community service, produced evidence of SSA’s excellent engagement of ex-offenders into their programme. With the foundation’s funding we will build on that by using our advanced statistical analysis to identify who benefits from the programme, how and in what circumstances. These analyses will assist the academy to identify the most effective practice and allow it to develop its professional programmes. To ensure that it has the right information at the right time we will be building a dashboard to communicate this data to those delivering the programme, their managers and the funder.

Not only will this improve their practice, but it has important implications for government’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda. That agenda depends on organisations like SSA being commissioned to deliver services through the private community rehabilitation companies. However, the participation of such organisations has been low as they struggle to demonstrate their impact on reoffending pathways and desistance from crime. Access Impact is helping to overcome those obstacles and by funding our work, will enable SSA to attract further funding and make the systemic changes that are essential to support men and women to desist from crime.

To find out more about our analytics services and how we can help your organisation demonstrate your impact definitively, contact us on 020 3371 8950 or email jack.cattell@getthedata.co.uk

Evaluation for accountability courts

Building on Success: Evaluation for Accountability Courts

Across the U.S. Accountability Courts are proving effective in reducing substance misuse and lowering recidivism. Once again, our home state of Georgia is in the vanguard of reform. Next week, GtD will be attending the annual conference of the Council of Accountability Court Judges of Georgia to show how evaluation can be used to build on these successes.   

Accountability courts provide interventions that address the mental health, substance misuse and other health issues that can be associated with an individual’s criminal behaviour. Designed to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison, those who are eligible will agree to completing a plan of action that includes counselling, support and regular drug testing by the court. While sanctions are imposed for those who violate a rule of the program or relapse, the court will be the forum for recognizing and congratulating an individual’s progress.

Once again Georgia is in the vanguard of criminal justice reform. Of the estimated 2,500 accountability courts in the U.S., 93 of them are in Georgia.  With the mounting evidence that they are successful in reducing substance misuse and lowering recidivism, there is also a good economic case to promote accountability courts over the use of jail. But if the evidence is there, what is the role of evaluation?  To answer this question GtD will be attending the annual conference of the Council of Accountability Courts of Georgia.

Building on Success

Although accountability courts can be successful, more can be done to improve, replicate and sustain this innovative approach. So, whether a new accountability court is being set up, an existing program is being extended or a funder needs evidence of impact, then GtD’s social impact analytics can provide definitive data to assist courts measure, learn and prove their impact.

Measuring

If a court is implementing a new program, GtD’s Impact Measurement Service will determine its intended impacts, how to measure them and identify what resources will be required. In providing this service we will collect data and report analyses that will be relevant to judges, court managers and practitioners.

Learning

GtD’s social impact analytics can help accountability courts improve their existing programs. Our Predictive Analysis service will help practitioners identify what is working best for offenders, and will provide information for managers to re-define high-quality interventions and deliver a more effective program.

Proving

Ultimately, accountability courts will want to prove their impact. Our rigorous Impact Evaluation service will provide definitive evidence of reductions in recidivism, lower substance misuse and the wider benefits to individual offenders, the local criminal justice system and community.

If you are attending next week’s conference, come by GtD’s table in the exhibition hall to learn more of the value of our social impact analytics for your court.    

A lightbulb of cogs to illustrate service innovation

Service Innovation – Segment and Conquer

Supermarkets use data to sell us more of the things we want, and even things we don’t yet know we want – a real world example of service innovation through segmentation that we can learn from.

In social policy, we all know that there is no one programme or service that will work equally well for everyone in the target cohort. Even if it is having an impact across the board there will be some people for whom it works better than others and that’s where extra value can be squeezed out.

We might roll our eyes at the buzz-phrase ‘customer segmentation’, and of course there’s a difference between tailoring public services and selling sausages, but both require a similar approach to gathering data, analysing it, and in a sense letting it lead the way.

In the case of Tesco it’s about working out what shoppers want and selling it to them – a far easier job than convincing them to buy things in which they have no interest, a win for both parties. With public services it’s a matter of thinking in broad terms where we want people to end up – or not end up, as the case may be – and then letting what bubbles up from the data determine the most efficient route, and even the specific end point.

For example, working with one client that specialises in tackling youth offending, our data analysis found that though their intervention was effective overall, it was less effective at reducing offending among 12 to 13-year-olds than among young people of 15 and 16. By treating these two segments differently the overall impact of the intervention can be improved and more young people can be set on the right path at the right moment in their lives.

This approach challenges current orthodoxy which would have us determine our theory of change and set out clearly how we will achieve a given outcome before starting work. This can lead people to impose an analysis on the data after the fact, forcing it to fit the predetermined course. It also implies that all service users need more or less the same thing and we know very well that they don’t. The orthodox approach has its place, of course, once data has been collected and analysed, when we can start to make predictions based on prior knowledge.

Equally, it’s not efficient to design a bespoke service for every single end user, but there is a sweet spot in which we can identify sub-groups and thus wring out more value from programmes with relatively little additional time, manpower or funding. I’ll finish with another example: we have been designing approaches to impact management with a number of providers of universal services for young people and adult disability services. These agencies work with different sorts of people, with varying needs, and for whom different outcomes are desirable. Advanced statistical analysis can help us identify groups within that complex body and lead to service innovation which is both tailored and general.

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan Part 2 – Change & Competence

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan Part 2 – Change & Competence

People don’t want to fund projects, or organisations, or even people – they want to fund change. And they want to work with professionals who know the territory.

Last week  I introduced the three hallmarks of a good evaluation plan and covered the first of those, “relevance”, in some detail. This week, I’m unpacking the others.

The second hallmark is evidence that evaluation, as planned, will promote learning and change within an organisation.  In our experience at Get the Data, we know that not all organisations are ready for change, so reassuring funding bodies of that willingness at the outset is a good tactical move. You can support this by engaging with changemakers within your organisation – those individuals who, if the evaluation demands change, have the desire and ability to make it happen.

For our part, Get the Data’s cutting edge predictive analyses are helping practitioners to identify what will work best for their clients. Managers are using that information to improve interventions, predict future impact and, in the case of social impact bonds, forecast future income. All of which, of course, goes to demonstrate a focus on improving results through intelligent change.

Knowing Your Stuff

The third and final hallmark of a good evaluation plan is evidence of technical competence which will reassure funding assessors that they are dealing with people who are truly immersed in the field in which they are working.

In practice, that means employing the agreed professional nomenclature of inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts; and also demonstrating an awareness of the appropriate methods for impact and process evaluation. Though this is partly about sending certain signals (like wearing appropriate clothing to a job interview) it is by no means superficial: it also enables assessors to compare your bid fairly against others, like for like, which is especially important in today’s competitive environment. In effect, it makes their job easier.

Organisations that commission Get the Data are working with some of the most vulnerable people in society. We value their work and are committed to using quantitative methods of evaluation to determine their impact. We are proud that our impact evaluations are not only delivering definitive reports on the impact of their work but also play a decisive role in ensuring vital interventions continue. A rigorous evaluation is a business case, a funding argument and publicity material all in one.

I hope you have found this short introduction to the hallmarks of a good evaluation plan useful.  If you want to learn more about how our social impact analytics can support your application for grant funding then contact me or sign up for a free one-hour Strategic Impact Assessment via our website.

 

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan Part 1 – Introduction & Relevance

When a potential funder glances at your application for a grant will they see reassuring signs of quality or something that immediately makes them wary?

When an antique collector finds what they suspect is a piece of fine English silverware they flip it over and look for a set of hallmarks – simple indicators that certify the metal, identify the maker, the place of production, and the year of manufacture. It can help them distinguish quickly between, say, an item of 17th-century sterling silver produced in London by a famous craftsman, and a mass-produced reproduction with only a thin plating of the real thing.

Similarly, it strikes me that there are three hallmarks of a good evaluation plan. First, it should be relevant. Secondly, it ought to promote adaptive change. And, finally, it must be technically competent. Get this right and you will certainly have a funder’s attention.

What has got me thinking about all this lately is a presentation I’ll be giving at the National Grant Conference which takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, between 25 and 27 July 2017, sponsored by the American Grant Writers’ Association.

My presentation complements the work Get the Data does in the UK where our social impact analytics practice provides organisations, including non-profits with the expertise they need to measure, improve and prove their impact. Our social impact analytics are often used to convince careful funding bodies to fund or invest in programs which ultimately assist the most vulnerable in society.

Demonstrating Relevance

So, going back to the first of those hallmarks mentioned above – what sells an evaluation plan as relevant? You have to know, first, what your organisation needs and what type of evaluation you are looking to conduct. Practitioners, board members and those responsible for awarding funding all think constantly about what impact they are seeking to achieve, how to measure it, and how they can achieve it with the resources at their disposal. You need to convey to them that you understand their priorities and mission and tie your work into theirs.

Of course, that’s easier said than done: stakeholders very often value different impact information so there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. This is an area where Get the Data can help. Our impact management services can assist in defining the needs of an organisation, and through smart reporting and analysis systems will ensure individual stakeholders can find the information that matters to them.

In the next post in this series, I will consider how we can help deliver an evaluation plan that promotes adaptive change and is technically competent.

In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you if you would like to learn more about how our social impact analytics can support your application for grant funding email me to get the conversation started.

Please also visit our website where you can sign up for a free one-hour Strategic Impact Assessment in which we’ll take the time to evaluate your current impact management success and will identify key areas to develop in order to help your organisation maximise your social impact.

 

Images showing analysis, in a light bulb to illustrate project evalution

You Might Be Winning but Not Know It

Have you ever eagerly awaited the results of a project impact study or external evaluation only to be disappointed to be told you had no impact? ‘How can this be?’ you might ask. ‘The users liked it, the staff saw the difference being made, and the funding provider was ecstatic!’ The fact is, if you’re trying to gauge the final success of a project without having analysed your data throughout its life, proving you made a difference is bound to be difficult.

Of course we would all like to know before we invest in a project whether it’s going to work. As that’s practically impossible (sorry) the next best thing is to know as soon as we can whether it is on a path to success or, after the fact, whether it has been successful. But even that, in my view, isn’t always quite the right question: more often we should be asking instead what it has achieved, and for whom.

In most cases – rugby matches and elections aside – success isn’t binary, it’s complex, but good data analysed intelligently can reduce the noise and help to make sense of what is really going on.

A service might in practice work brilliantly for one cohort but have negligible impact on another, skewing anecdotal results. Changes might, for example, boost achievement among girls but do next to nothing for boys, leading to the erroneous conclusion that it has failed outright. Or perhaps across the entire group, attainment is stubbornly unmoving but attendance is improving – a significant success, just not the one anyone expected. Dispassionate, unprejudiced data can reveal that your project is achieving more than you’d hoped for.

Equally, if the goalposts are set in concrete, consistently mining that data can give you the insight you need to learn, improve and change tack to achieve the impact you want while the project is underway. Or, at least, to check that you’re collecting and reviewing the right data – if the answer to any of your questions is a baffled shrug or an anecdote (and it too often is, in my experience) then you have a problem.

I’ll be circling back for a detailed look at some of the case studies hinted at above, as well as several others covering various fields, in later posts in this series.

In the meantime, consider the project that keeps you awake at night – where are its dark corners, and what good news might be lurking there?