Second, there’s a critical distinction between evaluation and impact. You may have noticed that the title of this blog refers to impact, but what I’ve actually been talking about is evaluation. If impact and evaluation were broadly the same thing, that wouldn’t be a problem. However they are very different, as I’ve argued elsewhere (http://bit.ly/ImpactLeadership). ‘Impact’ can of course be evaluated, but there are other things you can do with it that are at least as important: plan for it, deliver it, improve it, communicate it, and place it at the heart of your organisational culture. Too many people are put off thinking about impact because they mistakenly think it’s primarily about evaluation, monitoring and measurement.In particular, properly planning what impacts we want our organisation to create is absolutely vital if we are to fulfil our potential and really make a difference. For organisations that are new to impact thinking, one of the most common challenges is moving from asking “right, given our products, services and other outputs, what impact do we create?” to asking “right, let’s decide what changes we want to make in the world, and then work out what services and outputs would best deliver that impact”. Impact thinking can feel very unfamiliar and unsafe to some people who’ve perhaps spent years or even decades stuck in outputs thinking. But this thinking is, in my experience, the most fundamental characteristic of genuinely successful voluntary organisations and social enterprises.
We’re working with NCVO (and Richard) at the moment on their Value in Infrastructure programme – a toolkit to help infrastructure organisations plan, measure and communicate their impact.
It strikes me that impact is going to be more and more important – whatever you think of the Big Society, it does look like there might be opportunities for the third sector, eventually – but if there is, commissioning by impact may well become the norm, perhaps along the lines of the social impact bond launched a little while back.
Interesting for us, as a business too (we’re revising our business plan at the mo) – the impact we want to have is ‘better charities’ – so what do we add to Lamplight, our training, and other services to deliver that? I think it’s always in our heads, but perhaps we should put it up front a bit more.
(‘Better charities’ is a shorthand – not trying to sound arrogant!)