David Hounsell at The Children’s Society believes the charity sector isn’t doing enough to get impact support to the frontline practitioners who need it. Only by learning from practitioners and breaking down organisational silos can we make this happen.
I must start this blog with a confession; I am not a frontline practitioner.
I have however worked directly with practitioners at The Children’s Society for three years learning about the challenges of implementing an impact measurement programme. My small in-house expert team of data analysts and evaluation experts are constantly grappling with the challenge of understanding the needs of young people and measuring the impact we make on their lives, whilst not overburdening our staff.
How do you sensibly use tools and techniques to robustly measure impact without distracting the crucial work our staff do to safeguard and protect vulnerable young people? As one of my team put it the other week, “I’m surprised they talk to me at all”.
Without staff engagement impact work fails. A lack of engagement not only means forms won’t be completed and case recording systems won’t get updated, but it also means you don’t get the engagement from the frontline experts required to build and test theories for changing young lives.
Keys to unlocking engagement
Last month I presented three of our keys to unlocking that engagement to a practitioners conference. They seemed to resonate with the audience.
The first is to only use tools that add value to existing approaches. If a service is already required to complete a tool for statutory purposes, try wherever possible not to duplicate this for your own organisation.
The second is to develop approaches that work for the staff and service users. Make sure questionnaires and focus groups are arranged at the right point in an intervention, and always test and refine these approaches based on feedback from both sides.
The third is to always share findings with staff, and not to forget feeding back to the service users themselves. It is after all their lives that we are tracking.
One challenge we aren’t able to overcome alone is that we can’t always match the right impact experts to the programmes we run. The Children’s Society runs over 100 services across England, ranging from supporting young people missing from home to advocating on behalf of young people in care placement meetings. Our staff often ask what my team’s experience of those issues is. We have a range of experience, but we can’t cover it all.
For me this is a challenge for the charity sector. We need to find a relatively cheap way to allocate impact expertise where it is needed, not just where large organisations have the budget to employ it. Crowdsourcing solutions online, talent matching expertise, working towards shared outcomes – we need to find innovative ways to match demand and supply.
Our internal challenge is to be flexible for staff, whilst maintaining a high level of robustness of methods.
Three years on and our staff still talk to us; and that remains our number one impact priority.
Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.