Impact measurement with a minister in a tank top
Being rude to a government minister isn’t the best way to get ahead in our sector, but it seemed a good idea at the time.
I was introducing Francis Maude, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, who was speaking at the Third Sector Impact Measurement conference on 16 October. We had both attended the Abingdon School, so I made far too much of the fact that he attended long before I did, adding that ‘back in your decade, Minister’, the school was even in a different county, due to border changes 40 years ago.
Maude, resplendent in a sky blue tank top and matching tie, took it in good heart and launched into a thoughtful speech about encouraging a social investment market, wanting more employee mutuals to bring aspects of public services out of the public sector, encouraging all charities to engage in impact measurement, and stating his intention that government commissioning contracts should only specify the outcome, not the method.
But in truth we weren’t there for the Minister, but to hear from sector experts, who made many shrewd observations.
The manically entertaining Kieron Kirkland of the Nominet Trust noted that few projects are simple, yet our evaluation methods treat them as if they are.
Elizabeth Harper of St Mungo’s observed that successful impact measurement required change management across the whole organization, and allocating sufficient time to study and implement the conclusions.
Camilla Nevill of the Education Endowment Foundation told us that ‘you can’t have stories without numbers, or numbers without stories’: both quantitative and qualitative evidence was crucial.
David McCullough of the WRVS observed that if meals on wheels were just about cost-effectiveness, you could deliver two weeks’ worth of frozen meals once a fortnight, but the true value of the service was the few minutes spent each day by volunteers talking to lonely old people.
And a concluding thought came from Sara Llewellin, from the grant-making Barrow Cadbury Trust, who said: ‘If you know the outcomes before you start your project, you’re not taking enough risks.’
Martin Edwards is chief executive of Julia’s House