It was a full day of impact measurement on Wednesday this week. Which for an evaluation + metrics geek such as myself, is a day of utter joy….
First up, I did my "Introduction to social impact measurement" workshop with the new SSE Cornwall cohort of social entrepreneurs. The starting point for us is to help them get a full understanding of the story of how they make a difference (their "theory of change"), before diving into indicators, tools and methodologies. As well as demystifying some of the measurement jargon…
What's always interesting about the process of mapping that story out (a methodology unapologetically cribbed + developed from the new economics foundation) is that it is also an incredibly useful planning tool, and also leads to better communication of the project or idea. The message I emphasised was the importance of measurement in the current climate: funding or investment or contracts without strong evidence will be extremely scarce. So it is more crucial than ever. And there are no excuses for not measuring our social impact; a point I was also making in this video (quickly!) at Chain Reaction's Stronger Communities get-together on the Big Society.
Having come back from Penzance on the longest-train-journey-in-the-world (possibly), I headed down to the Garden Museum for the SE100 awards event, wondering who would win. Read more about the winners and the event here. It is an excellent initiative which recognises growth in turnover, but also has impact measurement built into its very core. Congrats to Mow and Grow, FRC Group and Create Leeds, and to all the nominees. And congrats to Tim West and the team at Social Enterprise Mag (along with all their various partners + sponsors) for pioneering the index. As Doug Richard noted in his closing words, when a sector or movement has an index, it's getting serious. And for me, an important development to have the recognition of awards tied to demonstrable evidence and proof of success: again, incentivising others to grow their impact, and measure that impact. Which, as Peter Holbrook and Nick Hurd said, is exactly what will be required in the current economic situation. I'm hopeful that some of those Cornwall SSE students, and others around the UK, will be applying for the trailblazer award next year.
It is well worth reading the full SE100 documentation, which includes some interesting discussions about the Future Jobs Fund (which was crucial to Mow and Grow's growth), regional breakdown of the 100 organisations, and several really good practical case studies of how impact can be grown and measured.
Finally, it was interesting to note the announcement on the same day by Nick Hurd of the end of Futurebuilders in its current form. Future revenue from the fund (i.e. in loan repayments) will be used to give grants to stimulate the creation of groups and initiatives at a local + neighbourhood level; to be called "Communities First", according to a speech by Francis Maude. On the one hand, I largely agree with this decision: in the manifesto pulled together by social entrepreneurs and social entrepreneur support agencies, we called for freer, direct local investment in locally-based social entrepreneurs through seedcorn grants and support (see here for detail); we recommended this because "many start-up and fledgling social entrepreneur-led initiatives are
responding to needs in their own communities not being met by any
current, commissioned public service provision" and that freer local investment is key to "encouraging innovation, active citizenship, and devolution of power"; I think this has much crossover with what is being proposed.
On the other hand, as we're discussing impact, the evaluation of Futurebuilders is worth a look (full report pdf here). Reading it for me, I don't think there's much doubt that it became more efficient, in its second incarnation, at giving out funds and selecting appropriate organisations for those loans (conversion rate, disbursement etc). Indeed, the evidence for impact on organisations' financial health and ability to deliver public services is strong; that for social returns and outcomes much less so. And there are some strong findings about the fact that these were new, 'unbankable' loans not being made elsewhere, providing new capital (i.e. they were highly 'additional')
Around 19% of loans went to smaller organisations (income under £100k) which is higher than I thought. Though it is interesting to also see that those organisations only won 10% of the contracts that FB investors gained (large orgs with turnover over £1m gained 46% of contracts by value). One assumes that all this has been fed into the decision-making process, otherwise (in effect), why do it: certainly, the evaluation's conclusion notes that social investment of this type will have to be looked at again in the context of more constrained social finances. And it is perhaps a decision also as much about policy emphasis (on social capital, community responsibility, and so on, as opposed to a relatively restricted version of 'public service delivery contracts') as about the type of investment (grant rather than loan). It will be fascinating to see what form the Big Society Bank takes, which Nick Hurd has stated is top of his agenda, and how it builds on all the experimentation and experience of the full range of social investors, including Futurebuilders.