Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Impact Management - New or Recycled?

Perhaps I’m getting old, but I have this feeling of déjà vu. It’s been prompted by the launch by Access – The Foundation for Social Impact – of their new Impact Management Programme. (See for details.) The principle is that charities and social enterprises should not just be measuring their impact and social value, they should actively work to increase it.

I must confess it hadn’t seriously occurred to me that you might measure impact without trying to improve it. I’ve always believed that the purpose of any measurement or evaluation should be twofold:
(a)    To demonstrate what has been achieved; and
(b)    To find ways to improve that achievement further
That’s why, in over 25 years, I’ve never written an evaluation report that doesn’t include recommendations – and I’m sure I never will.

Of course, recommending change and making it happen are two different things. So, quite rightly, the Impact Management Programme is looking for skills in facilitating culture change, leadership development, planning, and product/service development from the consultants who will act as its support providers.

But that’s really no different from change and improvement for other purposes. If you’re looking to improve customer service, increase profit margins or even save the environment, managing change involves much the same thing – leadership, culture, planning, processes/systems and so forth. Hence, for example, approaches such as Lean and Systems Thinking are primarily process-based, but still need ‘soft skills’ around leadership and change management to implement them.

So, allow me to present my ‘Theory of Everything’:

What I’m saying is that to pursue any aspect of improvement you need to be able to (a) measure the outcomes you achieve and (b) build and measure your capability to enable improvement. To paraphrase an old political cliché: “Tough on results, tough on the causes of results”. Check this against any improvement model you choose: EFQM Excellence Model, Balanced Scorecards, Lean, PQASSO (for the Third Sector), and now Impact Management. They may emphasise different aspects of the ‘theory of everything’ – social value for example focuses on non-profit results aspects. But they all fit with this overall way of thinking.

So does that mean I’m against the Impact Management initiative? No, absolutely not. The medium is as important as the message, and I endorse any approach that helps get these concepts across. Different methods – languages if you like – appeal to different people, and we need a diversity of models and communication to engage diverse organisations.

If Impact Management helps to drive change and improvement in the context of social value, then it has my full support.