Impact measurement is the sector subject du jour

Analysing and measuring impact is a hot button for charities at the moment. Everyone seems to wants to know more about it. One piece of evidence for this was the high attendance at a Third Sector conference on the subject yesterday. So many people wanted to come that the event was twice moved
to a bigger venue and ended up in the conference centre of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in north London, which was a shock to the system of one or two Chelsea season ticket holders in the sector.

Charities that deliver services are at the front of the queue to swot up on impact because they see the writing on the wall: national and local government is moving strongly towards payment by results.
Organisations that can demonstrate their results with sound metrics are the ones that are going to get the business. This was made clear in a session by Matt Robinson, head of social economy at the Office for Civil Society, although he said that finding the right set of agreed metrics for various kinds of
services is a process that is likely to take several more years.

The final session of the day was an interview I conducted with Dan Corry, who had taken over as chief executive of New Philanthropy Capital only the day before, and Cathy Pharoah, professor of charity funding at Cass Business School and a Third Sector columnist. NPC has, of course, made a lot of
the running on impact measurement in the last few years, and Corry, a former economic adviser to Gordon Brown, gave a solid account of the undeniable case for charities to find clearer ways of expressing what they achieve.

The note of dissent came from Pharoah, who said the sector was being “bludgeoned” with impact measurement and didn’t dare to speak up and express reservations for fear of the economic consequences. Her argument was that measurement was self-evidently a good thing, but was not always easy or appropriate for some of the complicated social and personal problems that charities and voluntary organisations take on. Her message was: proceed with caution and don’t get too carried away.

The final word came from one of the delegates, who wondered if there was an element of fashion in the clamour for measurement and was worried that charities might be spending too much time and money on it. There will no doubt be different arguments to be made in different cause areas, and this is a subject that is not going to go away.