Category: Local Government

Be Bold. Measuring Impact #NCPIgnites

Podnosh_Impact_Assessment

Yesterday I attended the New Philanthropy Capital Conference “Burning Issues and Being Bold” It was a day focusing on measuring and evaluating projects, demonstrating impact – it was right up our street. Unfortunately I was only able to attend for the morning.

However even though I was only there for half the day and I still woke this morning with my brain whirring from the conversations that took place, so much so I’m not sure I have yet processed it all, but as I sit here mulling it all over, sound bites from the speakers keep turning over in my head.

This is mush in my brain and so I’m starting to dump some of it here to try and make sense of what I am thinking.

Boldness in times of change

The first session was a panel discussion, called Boldness in times of change with Mike Adamson, Chief Exec of the British Red Cross, Anni Rowland Campbell Director of Inerscitcia and David Robinson OBE, Leading thinker in community , early action and social investment, and it was chaired by Iona Berry head of Charities at the NPC

  • Mike talked of being bold, and how being bold wasn’t just one large step, but a series of small steps – and that includes moving away from superficial evidence and towards more impactful reporting – that would give a collective voice to report “truth to power”.
  • Anni about the “unprecedented period of change” we find ourselves, and that we need to embrace technology, but remain human.
  • David Robinson said the Voluntary Sector has to plan for change and it has to think urgently, inventively and boldly and that they need to work to protect 2 key things:
    1. The needs of the Service Users.
    2. Embracing Experience – this means protecting the people with knowledge on the face of cuts.

“We are data heavy and insight light”

David also said something that stuck with me and followed me through the rest of the day;

We are data heavy and insight light” – We measure what the government and funding bodies want us to measure, but we should be reporting on where our value is and what we want to achieve.

This really struck a note as it is something we’ve been encouraging with the user of our Impact Assessment App. It’s not just numbers, it’s also the stories – the insight. Use your relationships with your clients to measure the impact of the work you do, trust the voice of your clients to tell your story – what are you achieving and use those voices and experiences to action change.

Learning from others

The next session was a keynote speech from Tom Loosemore, Director of Digital Service, Co-operative Group – ” Learning from others”

Tom had a lot to say it was really inspiring listening to him, but the take away points for me were:

  • Slow down, take a step back and have a think it’s a slow revolution. Don’t be passive, Get excited and make things happen – We have it within our power to restart the world again.
  • We have an obligation to build a better future, using the tools and capabilities of the (digital) revolution.
  • Don’t just strategise, Do, Build, Work, Observe & Iterate, Listen and Iterate, Observe and iterate again.
  • What are we learning? Understand the need of your service users. Work with them, don’t write a strategy for them.
  • Report on what matters.
  • Use digital to: Get better at what you do & deliver your purpose in different ways.

“Keep your Hippo on a leash, beware the snails and don’t be a boiling frog.”

Tom also used a couple of amusing, but simple descriptions to describe some of  the pit falls that the voluntary sector can come up against and what to be aware of. You can sum it up with “Keep your Hippo on a leash, beware the snails and don’t be a boiling frog.”

  • Hippo – Highest paid person’s opinion – avoid this! You can beat the hippo, if you have a strong voice. Often “paid workers” will try and impose their will on volunteers ad community orgs. This doesn’t have to be the case, speak up, be heard, keep the hippo on a leash.
  • Snails – are the people that hold you back, that fail to innovate, that are negative and don’t try to see the bigger picture. Beware the snails, know when they are likely to raise their heads.
  • Boiling Frog – the org/group that is stuck in a boiling pot getting left behind and slowly dying while not even realizing, the group stuck in their ways, failing to move with the times. Move forwards and embrace change. Take the people around you along for the ride. Don’t be the boiling frog.

A view from Whitehall

Following on from Tom was Lord Bob Kerslake – former head of the Civil Service, He gave a talk that touched on the government’s view of the Voluntary sector.

He said elected members often had a default embedded view of the community / voluntary sector, which differs dependent on their party, he said broadly speaking they are:

Tory: Left leaning & Inefficient
Lab: “Why are they doing our job”

However he also said the gov need us more than we need them – we need to stand up and be strong, government respect that, even if they don’t like it. We can use out collective voice to effect change/

Local government relationships are important to CVS, co production and radical change are needed And he recongnised that there needed to be “Show don’t tell” system to demonstrate innovation and impact.

Looking ahead in measurement and evaluation

After the break we went to the first (and my only) break out session – this was all about looking ahead in measurement. They opened the session be saying that this was for cutting edge practices.  That digital has changed both the pace and quantity of data being collected the we need think about how we are using this data.

But from there I will be honest, I lost the pace of the session very quickly. All the talk and slides looked more at quantitative data than qualitative outcomes, it was all KPI and number driven, The scale the speakers were talk about was beyond where we are currently working. Global enterprises with millions of pounds of funding that needed to collect vast amounts of data – and there was lots of talk of data.

Data collection and data analysis, data tools and extrapolation – mainly for outputs and I was lost, It appears that even on the “cutting edge” we were still looking at number crunching –  all I kept thinking was what about the stories and using people’s voice to evidence outcomes – that’s the impact.

Learning from the morning

Overall the morning got me thinking about how we understand impact measurement and broadly speaking how right I think our approaches are.

You can’t report Impact with numbers alone, you can’t really evidence the real difference you are making in people’s lives with graphs and charts, data means nothing without the background story, You need to make people feel, Or as Chip and Dan Heath would put it – you need to motivate the Elephant:

 

The over arching themes that I took from the day, and what I feel to be true from our own  work are:

Ongoing monitoring

Don’t just wait to the end of a project to demonstrate impact. Real time monitoring and feedback will allow you follow the progress of your work and the journey your clients are on.

Responsive working

By engaging in ongoing measurement and impact reporting it allows you to know if something is working and if it’s not, and allows to to make changes and respond to clients needs

Define and redefine outputs and outcomes

Know your mission and what your are aiming for, but don’t be afraid to redefine it as your work, and your clients experience shape what you do.

Don’t duplicate measurement

Be brave with this one, If a funder asks for something to be measured, find out if they really need it. What measurement are you already doing, get them to fit into your framework, don’t include another set of reporting unnecessarily.

I’m not a service user!

The final thing I didn’t learn yesterday, but I had reconfirmed. I hate the term “service user” over and over this term was used and I really detest it.  I’m not a service user, I’m more than just a number, and so is my community, we’re, people, clients, human beings, and if were really going to be talking impact we should be talking real people, not just statistics.

Growing the civic conversation online – a platform for healthier local democracy and healthier communities.

Austin Rodriguez and Lewis O-Rourke

Bit by bit we’ve been doing something strategic in Birmingham.   Every social media surgery that happens in the city helps in a number of ways:

  • Provides new skills to individual active citizens
  • Creates a place where people can meet each other
  • Helps community groups and the public sector use the web to talk to each other
  • Grows the civic conversation online.

This last one has been the strategic part.

I think that growing the civic conversation online is an important part of building new platforms in neighbourhoods. It helps traditional civic activity work better and new civic models emerge.

This is based on a simple assumption that if more civically minded people are using the web to talk to each other in a community it will be easier for politicians, public servants and other citizens to share ideas, information  and collaborate or campaign.  Of course people can and will use the web to talk about brangelina – but with the surgeries we target those already involved in or wishing to do something consciously civic.

We’ve taken this a step further in the last two or three years. A normal social media surgery is run by volunteers for volunteers – the free help is available to active citizens, local charities and community groups.

With funding from three of  the different quadrants of the Birmingham Community Safety Partnership  and some other initiatives  (thank you) we have run surgeries which involve public servants too. This means that they come to a surgery to get help on why and how to use social media. More than that though they learn alongside local community groups and active citizens. At times they are teaching each other – strengthening understanding and relationships.

We also used the effort to help spread live streaming of meetingscreate alternatives to traditional ward cttes and give public services tools to think about the stages of engaging online.

We sent out a survey to people who’ve used the social media surgeries in Birmingham. 35 people replied, about 10 per cent of those involved. They were a mixture of volunteers, third sector workers, public servants and at least one councillor.

The Survey

social media and public sector
does learning about social media influence how you think about your work

A third of people said what they had learned had influence how they think about their work ‘a lot’ – three quarters replied either 4 or 5 to that question.

One comment from a worker in a charity supporting charities said

“If I hadn’t started using social media  to build relationships I doubt I’d still be employed in my organisation, and I doubt my organisation would be doing some of the brilliant work it is doing. It’s enabled both me and my organisation to be pro-active in a rapidly changing and challenging context”

Do you use social media to build relationships in your work?
Do you use social media to build relationships in your work?
can you make (civic) things happen because you use social media ?
can you make (civic) things happen because you use social media ?

65% of people felt better able to make things happen because they are using social media. This is a core point. Growing the civic conversation is not just about more blither – it’s about more action.

Would it help your work if more community groups and active citizens were using the internet
Would it help your work if more community groups and active citizens were using the internet

Developing these skills in community groups and active citizens was also seen as a fresh opportunity by at least 77% of those who replied.  They know that the online civic conversation can help them get things done – so helping more people get involved ought to help that more.

have you seen the online conversation grow?
have you seen the online conversation grow?

More than 85 % felt they has seen the online civic conversation grow since getting involved with the social media surgery.  You would expect that to be the case for most people, simply being exposed to new people and new places where civic things get discussed would have that effect. But it is still encouraging to see that they have a wider civic conversation to take part in.

So Birmingham – you’ve already started a strategic investment in building a critical platform for civic change.   Persistence is paying off. Some more?  And what next? Which other new platforms are worth building?

If you’re not Birmingham, other places understand this and we can help you.  We introduced Dudley CVS to the why and wherefores and they have been running surgeries for years – indeed it was Lorna Prescott who told me that what were doing was platform building (sometimes it takes others to spot the obvious).

17 things I picked up at #commscamp16 – oh and one biggish thing

vwicecreamvan

Emma Rodgers and Dan from comms2point – with a huge amount of help from others   – always turn on a fab day for commscamp each year. Thank you.

I was there yesterday and here are somethings I picked up:

  1. Not everyone has been to an unconference!  Comms camp is an unconference for comms people.  A lot like govcamp and localgovcamp and bluelightcamp, hyperlocalgovcamp (I kid you not ) and..  well you get the gist. For about half the people there  it was their first unconference . And on the whole the newcomers loved it.
  2. There’s a VW campervan ice cream van called Polly that is fab – their newest competitor painted their van in the same colour and calls themselves dolly. (I’m not going to link to the competitor because I’ve already decided that polly is better than dolly )
  3. Twitter is commonly used as a way to create the appearance of doing something by comms teams.  “I’ll just bash out a few tweets” rather than winning the argument to say “we shouldn’t be communicating that in this way”.  So it can become a broadcast channel polluted with the passive aggressive product of internal disputes.
  4. Some people in public services have serious disdain for middle managers.      
  5. Us as citizens can get talked about as commodities.  In one session which covered laws around e-mail lists  the language was very much about e-mail addresses as a commodity.   Language like harvest gets used.  It made me think that someone’s email address is their attention – their personal world. Perhaps we should talk about a  “group of people”,  if we send this e-mail  we’re interfering in someone’s world.
  6. I can get a bit snarky about public sector comms (well I didn’t strictly pick that up yesterday).
  7. Trust is a thing
  8. 3 years is ok – ten years is excessive for keeping data.
  9. Don’t just have an unsubscribe link when you send bulk e-mails – add some information on where you got their e-mail address from to improve confidence in you.  
  10. Brexit will mean we lose a critical directive that protects you from all sorts of legals problems on comments sections of your Facebook page or blog.  At the moment the EU provides for protection is your comments are not pre-moderating, include a flag this button and your respond to someone’s objection in good time.  Without the EU lawyer David Banks thinks that protection will go. 
  11. David has also given some thought to why social media and politics is so toxic. He says there appears to be tacit permission that when it comes to political discourse people can be “absolutely vile to each other”. For him it’s a psychological phenomena – previously you’d say something a bit strong in the pub, and people would go quiet – showing they disapprove.  Social media exposes people to the likeminded – so reinforces  the excessive views. This normalises what could be called creeping malevolence – people start with something mildly abusive but because nothing happens to them, it creeps.
  12. All threats of physical violence on social media should always be sent to the police. Any message intended to cause “harassment alarm or distress” is a criminal offence.    Signing social media messages with a name (which we always suggest) stops this being a faceless organisation – reduces the amount of abuse.
  13. Language is a powerful thing  and discourse analysis is a way to recognise how that power is being used.
  14. It takes tenacity to change how people talk about places.  One person explained that their hospital was always referred to as a “basket case”.  Patience and persistence means the media now describe it as a “teaching hospital”. Small victories hard won
  15. The word remain was a problem in the referendum campaign because it is not not part of normal vocabulary for a lot of people.  (Update: thanks to Erica Dariks of Aston University for pointing to her source for this) That reminded me how sometimes appearing clever (there was a poor visual pun here – because the word IN appears in remain)  gets in the way of doing the best you can – like use the word stay.  
  16. The samaritans have some very good media reporting guidelines on suicide.
  17. Cake – I picked up several pieces of cake.

Oh and one biggish thing

If algorithms are encouraging the creation of bubbles then we should stop doing traditional comms.  This was a conversation I had just after the session on a fractured nation and post factual politics with a comms person who may not want to be named. We chewed around the problem that algorithms in both search and social media can tend to exacerbate self regarding bubbles.  They need to do that to create concise clear groups of people that advertisers can target.  If that’s what’s going on using them for more comms risk feeding this tendency to organise people in self serving bubbles. To break out of that we need to stop inflating the bubbles, get of our backsides and go and talk to people instead.  

 Updates

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Francis Clarke.