News from the Inspiring Impact Marketplace workshop

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Pictured at the Inspiring Impact Marketplace Workshop are (from L-R) Nigel McKinney, Building Change Trust; Tim Crabbe, Substance and Edgar Jardine, CENI.

The journey towards shaping a Development Plan for the Inspiring Impact initiative in Northern Ireland continued today (8 May 2013) with the hosting of an interactive workshop by the Building Change Trust on the theme of ‘Data, Tools and Systems’.

The trust invited Substance, a GB-based social research cooperative, to present their initial work on the development of a new online marketplace which aims to provide charities, social enterprises and funders with access to the best data, tools and systems to measure their social impact.

The event, held in Malone House, attracted a diverse group of delegates from voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations along with government departments, funders and impact practitioners.

Speaking at the event, Tim Crabbe, Chair and Director of Strategy with Substance said:

“Today’s session enabled delegates to share the learning that has informed developments to date and explore the ways in which they have identified and accessed tools previously. The workshop provided a useful platform for us to present initial design concepts for the new marketplace and for delegates to critique, develop and vote on new feature requests.”

Nigel McKinney, Building Change Trust said:

“Voluntary and community organisations exist to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable and deprived in our society. Good ‘impact practice’ is about these organisations being able to assess what that difference is and how it can be improved on. Today’s workshop is about understanding how we can best help them  to identify and access the most appropriate tools to do this.”

The Building Change Trust as one of the UK coalition partners is working with Community Evaluation Northern Ireland (CENI) to help develop a plan for Inspiring Impact in Northern Ireland by June 2013.

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Impact in Scotland

Tom ScottTom Scott is the Training Officer at Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS), a charity committed to working with voluntary organisations and funders so that they can measure and report on their impact. Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) is one of the partners involved and leads on Inspiring Impact Scotland.

The difference between the 2008 report’s outcome evidence and that shown in the 2009 report is simply outstanding.’

This was the conclusion from Maureen McGinn, Chair of the Scotland Committee of the BIG Lottery Fund when summing up her thoughts about a report from Dundee Youthlink. This organisation’s journey from not knowing where to begin and really struggling with evaluation, to being an inspiring champion of good impact practice by way of support from ESS and their Funder, Laidlaw Youth Trust, is presented as one of the case studies in Inspiring Impact: A Good Practice Case Study Report – What good impact measurement looks like. Case studies of the experiences of Includem and Health and Social Care Alliance are also featured in the report. They highlight the importance of innovative approaches,  integrating evaluation into everyday practice, and learning from the results to improve service delivery and client experience.

The groups focused on in these case studies, like most organisations in the voluntary sector, face on-going evaluation challenges—but the case for good impact practice is certainly being made. Pamela from Includem reflects that, ’at the start it can seem like its more effort than it’s worth’, which is a common experience. But she goes on to say that ‘the benefits [of good impact practice] are cyclical rather than linear’. So if we are to answer the key questions laid out in Are you leading for impact? Five questions for voluntary sector leaders then we must share examples of what good impact practice looks like and learn from each other’s experience.

Purposeful learning is a key theme across these case studies, but another is action. While evaluation can initially seem overwhelming one of the best things you can do is get started. As the lead partner for Inspiring Impact in Scotland, contributing to the confidence of voluntary organisations, funders and other stakeholders to start the process of improving impact measurement is a key goal for ESS. The organisations in these case studies have shown that together we can share, learn and improve.

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News from Northern Ireland

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Pictured at the Inspiring Impact Summit event are (from L-R): Nigel McKinney, Building Change Trust; Edgar Jardine, CENI consultant; Julie Harrison, Director, Building Change Trust; Tris Lumley, New Philanthropy Capital and Brendan McDonnell, Director, CENI.

Last week saw a key milestone in the journey towards shaping a development plan for the Inspiring Impact initiative in Northern Ireland. Over 50 delegates from voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, along with representatives of government departments, funders and impact practitioners, attended a summit event in Lagan Valley Island, Lisburn, hosted by the Building Change Trust.

Inspiring Impact involves a coalition of eight organisations across the UK, including the Building Change Trust. The Trust is supporting the delivery of a linked programme in Northern Ireland and is working in partnership with Community Evaluation Northern Ireland (CENI) to help develop a plan for Inspiring Impact here.

Community and voluntary organisations must do more than only be concerned with attempting to measure the difference they make, and the Inspiring Impact initiative promotes a holistic view which is more than just measurement; it is also about planning for impact, learning from and using impact data to effect change. This is called impact practice.

Last week’s summit event was chaired by Julie Harrison, one of the Directors of the Building Change Trust, who outlined the Trust’s ambitions for Inspiring Impact in NI. Tris Lumley from NPC provided the keynote address and focused on the progress being made to promote impact practice in Great Britain and how this might be applied to Northern Ireland. CENI consultant Edgar Jardine provided feedback from consultations with key stakeholders, outlined the challenges to embedding good impact practice in the voluntary and community sector and outlined the next steps in the production of a development plan for taking forward the initiative in Northern Ireland.

Speaking about the event, Julie Harrison said:

“The vision for Inspiring Impact in NI is better impact practice across the sector and by its funders, including government, leading to improved services, better policy formation and more effective use of resources. Today’s summit event played a major role in helping to shape an Inspiring Impact development plan for NI. The event brought together key funders, government representatives,  voluntary and community sector representatives and impact practitioners to take stock of products and learning emerging from Inspiring Impact in Great Britain, consider the issues and challenges of promoting impact practice here and to identify priorities, themes and potential projects which will inform a 3-5 year development plan for Northern Ireland.”

Find out more about Inspiring Impact’s work in Northern Ireland >

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Stronger together

Working in partnership and sharing is often better than going it alone. Partnerships pervade the natural world—whether through lifelong unions (swans, humans, beavers, dik diks…), communities living as a group or bees working away in a hive. This symbiosis reflects the fact that when we work together and share, we tend to be better off. My mother used to tell me a story about the farm she grew up on in 1950s Ireland. Every year they would slaughter a pig. If you are familiar with pig slaughtering, you will know that there are certain parts that you cannot keep and store beyond a number of days. Her family would take most of the pig and divide it up among families in the community and then eat and preserve what they could. They would then receive similar gifts in return from their neighbours throughout the year. Mutual cooperation at work.

Shared measurement is all about acknowledging that we are greater than the sum of our parts. Most complex social issues, such as homelessness or anti-social behaviour, cannot be solved by one initiative working in isolation. These issues require systemic, collaborative responses. Shared measurement can promote a systemic approach to understanding the issues we aim to tackle and help us learn what works best to solve social problems. Simply defined, shared measurement is all about charities and social enterprises working on similar issues, and towards similar goals, coming together to develop a common understanding of their shared outcomes, and developing the tools to measure those outcomes.

However, developing and maintaining a shared measurement approach across a number of charities, no matter how closely aligned their aims, is not an easy task. Our research published today looks at the key steps in developing a successful shared measurement approach. The Blueprint for shared measurement is the first research of its kind to look at these issues in a UK context. Through analysis of 20 different shared measurement examples, we identify factors that are key to initiating, developing, designing, scaling and sustaining shared measurement. Interestingly the process of developing shared measurement cuts across a number of complex issues affecting the charity sector. Many of the themes we see in developing shared measurement are broader issues—for example, good collaboration, good leadership and high-quality impact measurement. Our findings look at how developers of shared measurement have addressed these issues in each approach.

We believe successful shared measurement can bring great benefits to the charity sector. Our report illustrates that when done well it can reduce the cost and burden of developing bespoke measurement tools. Shared measurement also helps charities develop a  greater understanding of their sector’s impact network and understand how their work links to that of similar organisations. Most importantly, it lets charities compare results with similar organisations, and begin to understand what is normal for their work, and what they should aim for. This is crucial to understand what leads to the best outcomes for the people charities work with. As CAADA found when developing its shared measurement tool for the domestic violence sector, ‘this kind of information can help us make decisions about where teams should be located and map what interventions lead to change.’

We  hope that people use this Blueprint, and the lessons within it, to promote shared measurement across the charity sector, and we are keen to hear people’s feedback on their experiences of using the report.

Download the Blueprint for shared measurement here >

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Shutting the gate before the horse has bolted

Shutting the gateMy grandfather used to say, ‘Aim at nothing and that’s exactly what you’ll hit’.  But as a misfiring Arsenal striker might tell you, that logic doesn’t necessarily hold—even when you do aim at something, what you end up ‘hitting’ may go far beyond your intended target (you could hit a spectator or the corner flag).  And if recent times have taught us anything it’s that no good can come from an obsession with targets.

We continue to feel the aftershocks of a global financial crisis which had wealth obsession at its epicentre, the purveyors of which were either oblivious to, or uncaring of, its consequences.  The last few weeks alone have thrown up two more glaring examples of a culture fixated on targets: I’m thinking of the Stafford Hospital revelations and the horsemeat scandal.

In the case of Stafford Hospital, both a 2009 report by the healthcare commission and an independent inquiry in 2010 cited the target chasing nature of the Mid Staffordshire Trust as a critical factor in the far higher than expected number of patient deaths.  Why? Because it seems the hospital was concerned to meet targets set by the Trust rather than the needs of those in their care.

Similarly, one has to question how horsemeat has found its way so systemically into what we eat.  One simple answer seems to be its relatively low cost compared to beef.  In other words, as meeting financial targets became the focus, the squeeze on quality was inevitable, and the door was opened to decidedly dodgy practices.

What has any of this got to do with charities?  Well, quite a lot, actually. In the examples above an obsession with targets drove actions that, deliberately or not, paid no regard to impact.  It’s crucial that, in a climate of reduced and competitive funding, charities focus not only on targets (financial or otherwise) but also consider the full impact of their work.

This isn’t just about preventing problems – a charity that places impact at the centre of what they do is one being intentional about the difference they want to make: spelling out intended change, undertaking activities to support it, reflecting on the change created (good or bad), and using that understanding to be more effective in future.  The benefits of taking such an approach include being able to:

  • Allocate limited resources where they can do the most good
  • Clearly articulate what they work on and why
  • Understand the positive and negative outcomes of their work and doing more of the former and less of the latter
  • Publicise widely inside and outside the charity the difference they’ve made
  • Better serve those they intend to help

Last week, the NCVO published the Code of Good Impact Practice for further consultation, as part of the Inspiring Impact programme.  The programme aims to change the way that the UK voluntary sector thinks about impact and the Code aims to provide broad and agreed guidelines for focusing that thinking.  It does this by setting out a cycle of good impact practice against eight general principles:

  1. Take responsibility for impact and encourage others to do so too
  2. Focus on purpose
  3. Involve others in your impact practice
  4. Apply proportionate and appropriate methods and resources
  5. Consider the full range of the difference you make: positive and negative, planned and unplanned
  6. Be honest and open
  7. Be willing to change and act on what you find
  8. Actively share your impact plans, methods, findings and learning

We want the Code to be as useful as possible for all charities, social enterprises, and a source of information for those who fund them, so it’s important that you have your say.  The charity sector exists to make a positive difference to society, something arguably required now more than ever.  Let’s make sure we put the making of that difference at the heart of our thinking and practice.

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Social Value Act: A worthy act of defiance

Sun light penetrating a Bluebell woodAs NPC’s survey When the going gets tough found out, times are especially hard for charities and social enterprises competing to deliver public services. Commissioners, under pressure to reduce spending fast, are focusing on cutting costs. For many, this means letting big contracts and seeking low unit costs, to the benefit of large outsourcing companies and the detriment of charities and social enterprises (as the Work Programme has shown). Charities and social enterprises are concerned, even angered, by this direction of travel—not just for themselves but for their beneficiaries too.

However, the Social Value Act, which comes into force today, is a worthy act of defiance against this overall trend. The brainchild of Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), the Act introduces a new requirement for ‘public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts. The precise ways in which this should be observed are not set out in the Act, but SEUK’s guidance says commissioners should consider how social value policies can be reflected in the procurement in the following ways:

  • In the specification for those services;
  • By asking about the bidders’ track record in delivering the services; and
  • By determining the criteria to be adopted for determining the winning tender.

Essentially, commissioners will need to be able to show how they ‘have regard’ for social value in the procurement process. So, the Act should push issues of impact, value and service quality up commissioners’ agenda at a time when their focus is too often on cost.

The Act should also be a driver for charities and social enterprises to think about and prove their social impact. Sector leaders often talk about the added value that charities can bring to public services, such as a focus on users and links with the local community. But the sector often struggles to show how these USPs translate into a  tangible impact on local people and communities, or tangible benefits for the state (eg, reduced use of services). The Social Value Act should encourage more charities to build a robust case for the impact and benefits of their work.

So the Act is timely and important. However, there are three strong reasons to believe that it won’t dramatically change commissioning practices:

  • The countervailing pressure to focus on cost over social value is likely to be more powerful given the state of public finances;
  • Existing legislation (eg, 1999 Best Value Act) includes similar provisions, so a lack of legislation may not be the main problem—nor the best solution—to improving commissioning practices; and
  • It will probably be hard to mount a legal challenge to commissioning decisions, though it is likely to be easier to challenge commissioning processes.

Given all this, we think the onus is on charities and social enterprises to ensure that the Act is really being used. This means cajoling and lobbying commissioners to implement the Act, and also taking big strides to improve the way they measure their own social value.

Caveats aside, the Social Value Act should be welcomed by anyone who wants public money to do the most good for society. It represents a voice of sanity in a harsh commissioning environment. Now its over to charities and social enterprises to make sure that commissioners take it seriously.

This blog was first published at www.thinkNPC.org

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Ich bin ein sozialer Wirkungsanalyst

SIAA conference

Ich bin ein sozialer Wirkungsanalyst: the phrase that ended the annual conference of the Social Impact Analysts (SIA) Association in Berlin last week. Saying ‘I am a social impact analyst’ may be simple, but dig a little deeper and its meaning gets a bit complicated, as I found at this inspiring event.

Time and again, discussions came back to what it means to be a social impact analyst. This is unsurprising given how early we are in the development of measuring and analysing impact. Analysts have no code of practice or common qualification, and most people wouldn’t recognise the profession. As Andreas Rickert, CEO of Phineo, jokingly commented ‘at parties nobody understands my job, it’s nice to be around people who actually get what I do.’  Some of those the profession seeks to serve—funders, investors, charities, social enterprises—struggle to see the value of impact analysis. Given these challenges, the conference’s focus on ‘an emerging profession’ was apt.

So what does it mean to be a social impact analyst? I asked myself this on a bumpy flight back to London. Reflecting on discussions, an impact analyst seems to me to blend three roles that, taken together, distinguish them from evaluators and researchers.

First, social impact analysts are scientists, bringing rigour and robustness to help answer the question: what difference did this make to people’s lives? This does not mean there aren’t differences between analysts: some emphasise bottom-up approaches, others top-down, some focus on qualitative data, others quantitative. But we share a common goal: to get the best possible picture of the real social impact created.

Secondly, they are campaigners. The very need for impact analysis is not universally accepted—many organisations prefer the status quo. In the face of scepticism or apathy, impact analysts have a lot of convincing to do. We have to change attitudes by demonstrating the value of impact analysis, focusing (where possible) on how we help the organisations we work with have more impact. NPC’s experience suggests that we can change mind-sets, but it takes time and a groundswell of support, and one organisation alone won’t get far alone.

Thirdly, social impact analysts are change makers. When asked why she went to work in the morning, one delegate said ‘to change the way people see their work.’ This was a common theme. We aren’t satisfied with generating nice evaluation reports. We want people in social purpose organisations to think and act differently as a result of our work. In practice, this means we need to work with organisations to help them measure their impact in ways that can help them manage performance, learn and improve. This sounds simple, but to achieve it, you need macro-level changes in systems. For example, organisations need a measurement system that is fit for purpose. This often requires extensive research and consultation with staff and beneficiaries. But the micro-level changes in practices are crucial too, as one delegate put it: ‘we encourage colleagues to talk about the impact they have made in the coffee break, it’s about creating an everyday culture of reflective practice.’

Social impact analysts need a range of skills to be able to fulfil these three roles. So to the three roles above, I would add ‘juggler.’   We also need to be able to juggle these different roles, which are often in tension. For example, being scientific can mean being the bringer of bad news. As one delegate put it: ‘when we found out the charity was not doing a great job, the charity didn’t want to know, neither did their funder.’  This can undermine our relationship with charities or funders, a relationship that is essential if we are to change their practices.

After the conference, I was left with a strange mixture of emotions: apprehension, excitement, and a touch of confusion. But above all, I felt proud to call myself ‘ein analyst des sozialen auswirkungs.’

This post was first published on NPC’s blog on 26 November 2012. 

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Why impact is more important than ever

Donations

A few weeks ago charity hit the headlines again, with the release of NCVO and CAF’s report UK Giving 2012, which revealed that levels of charitable giving have fallen significantly over the past two years. Given the economic climate, this figure shouldn’t come as a surprise, although that doesn’t make it any less worrying for charities. Combined with the significant knock to statutory funding which we explored in NPC’s research into commissioning earlier this year, it leaves charities facing tough competition for increasingly scarce funds.

Thinking about impact may not be at the front of charities’ minds when they’re struggling to find finance to keep going at all, but I think there are two compelling reasons why stopping to think about what you’re achieving is essential.

First, an issue of trust. Scrolling through the comments on the BBC’s coverage of the report, it’s amazing how many people seem to believe charities will waste their money, and therefore don’t donate. Whether they bring up the old admin costs issue, or hold the more extreme view that all charities are outright scams, at heart there’s an issue with communication. Charities need to be vocal about what they are achieving with the money they receive from the public. Donors may or may not consciously think about impact when choosing charities, but the real issue is the way charities are perceived by the general public, something that is bound up in the way we talk about what we achieve.

Second, being clear about how you make a difference to people’s lives can help charities make tough decisions about their limited resources. Knowing where and how you make an impact, through working out a theory of change, for example, means charities can identify where their work is critical, where others are doing similar work, and where they can afford to reduce a service. Thinking in this way, always with the impact you want to achieve in mind, can help minimise the effects of these financial strains on beneficiaries.

The headlines around this report may have focused on the drop in giving, but the report contains a wealth of useful information for the sector on who is giving, how they’re doing it and what they’re giving to. One statistic I found interesting was the level of giving amongst higher earners, for example: although those in managerial and professional groups are consistently more likely to give, the percentage of people giving and the amount given have both decreased. Clearly everyone is being hit by the recession, but these figures once again raise questions around the culture of giving in the UK.

With two major sources of funding suffering so much, the pressure is on for trusts and foundations and major philanthropists to plug gaps. We hope NPC’s Money for good research into high net worth donor motivation, which we plan to launch early next year, can help charities understand more about tapping into the second of these groups.

In the meantime, have a look at NCVO and CAF’s Back Britain’s Charities campaign, which sets out a manifesto for supporting the sector through a difficult time –  including encouraging charities to sign up to be part of Inspiring Impact.

This blog was first published on NPC’s website on 13 November 2012. 

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Measuring the market

As part of the data, tools and systems strand of Inspiring Impact we have been busy consulting with the sector about the tools they currently use and the things that help or hinder access to them.

We have already identified over 130 tools and systems and would be delighted to hear about others we might have missed, as well as any corrections or updates to the information we have gathered so far. Just contact Substance to keep us in the picture.

120 charities and social enterprises also responded to our survey that sought to gain a better understanding of their access to impact measurement approaches, tools and systems. The respondents came from a wide variety of sectors with a concentration around children, young people and families; employment, education and training; health; and economic, social and community development. In the main, they were providers of front line personal or organizational support services with turnovers ranging from less than £100,000 to over £10 million.

Almost 80% of those who responded had recently adopted or were currently considering a new impact measurement approach or system. Interestingly, and in contrast to other surveys emphasizing the importance of funder demands, the strongest driver of this activity was a ‘desire for improved performance’. This was seen as very important by 62.5% and important by a further 31.3%. This was followed by a ‘greater commitment to organizational learning’ that was seen as very important by 43.5% and important by another 50%.

The need to gain a competitive advantage and pressure from funders still featured in respondents’ considerations, whilst cost was a significant inhibiting factor for those who had not adopted a new approach. However, it is clear that those who are most engaged with impact measurement are recognising the wider non-financial benefits to be gained from the process, with the biggest impacts ultimately related to improvements in organizational communication (95.3%) and confidence (93.2%).

Organisations are seeking information about which tools and approaches to adopt from a range of sources including research reports (60%), peer recommendation (53.3%), external consultants (37.8%), support organisations (31.1%) and dedicated online resources (28.9%). A range of factors were also taken into consideration when making the final decision, with a particular emphasis on the validity or reputation of the approach or system, its adaptability, ease of use and cost.

In terms of promoting sustainable solutions it was also encouraging to see that respondents had considered the challenges that exist beyond the commissioning stage. The need to ensure measured impact can be attributed to the organisation (60%) and the need for an approach that fits with the nature of their work (63%) were both identified as very significant methodological issues that no doubt influence organisations ability to ensure staff and volunteer engagement on an ongoing basis.

These factors may also help to explain the widespread trend towards improvement or development of new internal approaches and systems by over 80% of the respondents. With only 17% of respondents opting for existing systems bought ‘off the shelf’, the need for smarter communication about what is already out there in order to avoid duplication and system proliferation could not be clearer!

Over 50% of respondents opted for internal development of a new approach or system

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Keeping the frogs in the wheelbarrow: An update from the Inspiring Impact drinks

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.

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