Is M&E really a job?

Last week saw New Philanthropy Capital’s annual conference, NPC Ignites. NPC is a charity think tank and consultancy working with both donors and grantees to maximise impact. I went along to their conference and here’s what I found out…

  • Not everyone is convinced that M&E and impact measurement are difficult. In one of the more memorable moments of the conference programme, Lord David Sainsbury stated that M&E and impact measurement need not be overly complicated. He argued that if you go into a project with clear objectives and expectations, it should be easy to assess whether you have met them. It’s difficult to argue with that logic and many organisations unnecessarily complicate matters by trying to measure everything and anything – leading to masses of information that either doesn’t tell you very much or is simply lost among the morass. In general, ‘keep it simple’ is a message that could be applied to many areas of charitable activity, not just M&E.
  • Unfortunately, keeping it simple, doesn’t always mean things will be easy. A session on involving a charity’s users to increase impact revealed some of the difficulties inherent in transforming service users (or beneficiaries) from passive recipients into active change makers. The truth for many service delivery charities (e.g. a homeless charity providing shelter, medical services or food) is that their boards and staff may never have experienced homelessness first hand. But there is a rich seam of lived experience waiting to be tapped by charities that are willing to give it a go. People who have been homeless or have lived in sheltered housing have a wealth of real-life experience that could transform the way a charity thinks and operates. But not enough charities are using that grounded knowledge to inform what they do and make improvements. Some organisations fear that incorporating users into the development of their charity and design of their projects may be seen as tokenistic. Others have tried, but fitfully because of concerns from their boards or senior staff that it might not work out. And yet others don’t see the need for it. But by finding new ways to listen to service users, charities may well find they are hearing new things based on real experience, rather than their existing echo chamber which confirms their own way of thinking.
  • Many charities are (unnecessarily) wary of challenging government where they see injustice or inefficiencies. Charities in the UK are often wary when it comes to campaigning and political activity. Yes, a charity by law must have a clearly defined charitable purpose (such as the relief of poverty or the advancement of animal welfare), but sometimes that aim may best be achieved through political campaigning or calling for a change in the law. While many charities would like to do this, they get nervous around campaigning and worry that it might be misconstrued and used against them. Yet charities enjoy a voice and a platform and can make themselves heard. They can and should speak up for those they serve, especially the vulnerable, to challenge government when it gets things wrong.

There is, of course, plenty that I have missed out here for reasons of brevity and memory. Luckily, though, NPC put together this helpful Storify account, so you can follow the event as if you were there.