At the Inspiring Impact report launch last year, one participant said how good it was to see ‘all the frogs in the wheelbarrow.’ He was referring to the eight Inspiring Impact partners who have come together to help change the culture of the voluntary sector to make impact measurement a priority.
Fast forward nine months to our first drinks event last Tuesday, and the frogs were still in the wheelbarrow. Tris Lumley, my colleague at NPC, presented Inspiring Impact’s plan of action, explaining each partner’s role in running the different projects which form part of that plan. We’re enjoying consulting with charities, funders, investors, measurement experts and umbrella bodies to develop these projects, and it was great to see many of these stakeholders joining us at the drinks event.
Inspiring Impact is at heart a collective programme. It’s about bringing together all the great work the sector is already doing to measure and communicate impact and coordinating all our efforts. These kind of initiatives are perhaps more common in the US, bringing together non-profits, government and citizens to create sustainable change in neighbourhoods. Take Strive in Cincinnati, a partnership of hundreds of leaders in education, nonprofit, community, civic, and philanthropy. They are working collectively to improve educational outcomes for every child in Cincinnati ‘from cradle to career.’
But these types of collective initiatives can be hard work. There are a number of challenges to making them work, and Inspiring Impact will no doubt face many of these over the next ten years. These were neatly summarised by Paul Schmitz, a key advocate of collective impact, in an article in the Huffington Post last week, which offers some essential lessons for Inspiring Impact.
First, it is critical to spend time building partnerships, to develop trust and be as inclusive as possible. This has been a key aim of Inspiring Impact; so far we have involved 51 individuals from the sector in project working groups, and have a network of 500 supporters via our mailing list. But we need to continue to work harder to engage further with the sector, and build the Inspiring Impact movement. We want to see the interest and enthusiasm we’ve encountered so far snowball over the next year.
Second, we need to beware of the obsession with short-term outcomes over long-term, sustainable, change, which can distract organisations from tackling problems in an integrated way and focusing on lasting solutions. Inspiring Impact must produce guidance useful to the sector, disseminate it, and track how organisations are using it. But we need to keep one eye on the long-term goal of the programme – transforming practice in the sector – which won’t be achieved overnight. Having a 10-year plan is a good way of keeping us focussed on long-term change, as is reviewing progress at the end of year one to see if we are making real headway.
Thirdly, collective impact programmes shouldn’t be done to communities, but with them. This means constant and repeated engagement. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for Inspiring Impact. We would like it to be a bottom-up movement, yet improving impact practices charity-by-charity through positive encouragement is likely to take 100 years rather than ten. We will need to find levers to encourage organisations to improve their impact practices. Striking the right balance here will be tough.
Collective impact projects are full of challenges. But, to misquote a famous proverb, ‘if something’s easy to do, it’s not worth doing.’ If it was too easy, I suspect that would be a sign we weren’t being ambitious enough. Last week’s drinks showed how many people are signed up and ready to be part of Inspiring Impact’s collective endeavor. It’s heartening that Inspiring Impact is kicking off with so many energetic, ambitious people onside.