I have recently started a new role as Head of Impact Management for the Thera Group (www.thera.co.uk), which is an exciting new role for me and the Group. A common theme from messages of congratulations from colleagues, family and friends was “don’t really know what that is or what you’ll be doing, but I’m sure you’ll be great!” Whilst I appreciated the vote of confidence, it also told me what my first priority had to be – working out what I was doing and telling everyone else what that was!

What is impact?

Simply put, impact is having an effect, or making a difference, through an activity, project or other action. It is a noticeable change. It is also the reason many of us do things, such as choosing a certain career, or volunteering for a cause, we want to make a difference for someone or something; however cheesy that may sound!

How do we know we are having an impact?

This is where impact measurement comes in – using data and information that tells us what difference we have made. That could include a range of things like the numbers of people attending an event, measures of people’s attitudes or wellbeing before and after a project, or personal stories where people reflect on their journey and the changes they have experienced. There is of course lots of good practice and research out there on the best ways to get this information, the most reliable methods and questions etc. Then there’s the question of how you collect, process and use the data to translate it into information you can understand.

What then is impact management?

Measurement is a big part of impact – you may think you are making difference by doing x, but do know that’s the case? Impact measurement allows you to be more confident in knowing what you are doing and where to focus your efforts. But you can take this further – going beyond just a retrospective ‘did it work?’ to thinking proactively about and planning for impact. We can ask:

  1. What impact do we want to have?
  2. How do we think that will happen?
  3. How will we know that has happened?

The first question feeds into and strengthens your strategic planning. Thinking about the end result and the wider impact that is intended to have, helps you focus on the key measures that will really make a difference. Using the 2nd and 3rd questions, you can then take your strategy from just an aspirational statement or picture of an ideal future, to a considered and manageable plan to actually make it happen and check that it did. Building in measures to check whether we are having the effect we hope is also a brave thing to do – it’s easier to just focus on and celebrate the inputs – all the efforts you and your team are putting in – than to make yourself open to hearing what may be uncomfortable feedback and results if you’re not quite as great as you think you are.

So why do impact management?

If it is harder, and scarier, that continuing with business-as-usual, why make the effort? Here are my first thoughts, impact management enables us to:

  • Actually achieve our vision and mission
  • Make a real difference for people
  • Understand what works and what doesn’t
  • Be leaders and innovators in the sector and beyond
  • Challenge ourselves to improve
  • Win funding, tenders and contracts
  • Build a positive profile
  • Create new opportunities

Impact management is more than ‘nice to have’. If you are serious about achieving your organisational mission, you need to know whether what you’re currently doing is working. Where it is, great – share that so others can benefit; celebrate it with your teams; and use it to evidence why you should be funded/supported to do more of this great work. Where it’s not working as well as you hoped, that’s ok too – use it to learn where you can get better; involve everyone in finding new ways to understand a problem and tackle it differently; create opportunities for change and innovation.

Embedding a culture of impact management in your organisation means embedding a culture of continuous learning and improvement – you will never get it all right and there will always be more you can do. What used to work may also change as issues evolve. Embrace that and enjoy the process of learning and developing together with everyone involved in and touched by your organisation, on your shared journey to making a difference.

And my last piece of advice (based on all of 3 weeks’ experience in the role, but it’s what I have to keep reminding myself!) – start small. I have found that it’s easy to get caught up in so many exciting ideas and see the very best examples of rigorous research and well-developed impact programmes and think you need to do it all now. Start with the basics in the 3 questions I list earlier and perhaps just one measure for each of your key impact goals. You can learn and build from there.

I look forward to seeing the impact you make. Good luck!

To read more on social impact, try:

To learn about Thera’s impact so far, check out our Social Impact Reports, including the recently published 2019-20 report: www.thera.co.uk/investors/

Connect with me on twitter to hear more sporadic ramblings on impact: @MeikeB88