When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea? Clare Hammond explores when and how to use distance travelled tools

Distance travelled tools are a popular way of understanding the progression someone has made through a service. They are almost a standard part of any funder or commissioner’s monitoring ask and certainly feature heavily in evaluations and impact measurement.

But when is using a distance travelled tool a really bad idea?

The issue is that needs assessment and distance travelled tools can be seen as the same thing by funders, commissioners, service managers and others.

So, what is the difference?

  • Distance travelled tools are ways of understanding the progress an individual has made. They are particularly useful when assessing the growth in an individual’s knowledge or tracking a single outcome
  • Needs assessment tools are used by practitioners to identify needs and target interventions as part of their case management role.

Needs assessment tools are a vital part of providing holistic and person-centred support as they allow the practitioner to work through with the participant the various elements of their lives and identify the participant’s worries and needs. They tend to consider a wide variety of aspects of an individual’s life such as health, housing, relationships, employment and addiction.

It is common for practitioners to use these tools regularly throughout their engagement with a participant in order to understand the changing priorities for support.

For this reason, it can be easy to see how they could also be used to track an individual’s progression. If housing was scoring as a high area of concern and then after six weeks the concern level is significantly lower, then it could be reasonable to expect that this could be an impact of the programme.

However, needs assessment tools make terrible measures of distance travelled. They can provide a distorted and confused picture of progression for two main reasons:

  1. Progression is not a linear pathway – particularly for participants with chaotic lives – and can be distorted by how individual’s feel on a particular day. Recovery or improvement is never linear and variations in scores can be misleading when considering overall progress

 

2. Needs assessment tools can ask individuals how they feel (on a scale) on a wide range of broad issues such as employability, housing, and relationships. Practitioners quite rightly expect to see the figures on the scale to increase and decrease for reasons other than progress or regression. For example:

  • An individual may be focused on managing their addiction, so housing and relationship issues are likely to score low. Once the addiction is better managed, the focus of the individual may turn to their relationships and housing.
  • Initial scores may appear ok when individuals do not yet trust the practitioner they are working with. As the trust and relationship builds between the practitioner and participant, the individual may feel more comfortable expressing unhappiness with parts of their lives.
  • Not knowing what you don’t know can distort initial results. A participant may be happy with their housing situation initially, but as they build their self-esteem they can start to feel they deserve better. Or they can gain a better insight into  their rights when it comes to housing and they can recognise that their housing situation is unhealthy and not good enough.

In all these situations, it would be reasonable to expect to see scores worsen over time as the individual has the space to think about these areas, the trust in the practitioner to open up about what is concerning them, and the knowledge and self-esteem to know they deserve better.

There are two key differences between distance travelled tools and needs assessments to consider when working out how to measure impact:

  • Distance travelled tools should be used to test knowledge, understanding and confidence rather than feelings to avoid being distorted by a client’s feelings on a particular day
  • Distance travelled tools need to be focused and specific in what they are asking – broad questions like, ‘How are you feeling about your housing situation?’ should be reserved for needs assessment tools as they are useful questions to open up conversations about need.

So, when working out how to measure progress – beware!  What can appear to be a distance travelled tool may not provide you want you are looking for.

 

Until next time, Clare 

Clare is an Associate Director at Rocket Science who specialises in health and social care with expertise in understanding impact and conducting evaluations. To discuss anything further please get in touch at [email protected] of 0131 226 4949

Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

Three Rocket Scientists give an insight into their day-to-day work 

Cristiana Orlando, Research Intern

Looking back to when I first started as an Research Intern in September 2018, it’s incredible how much I have learned in the span of six short months. I had just graduated from the University of Oxford with an MSc in Comparative Social Policy and I applied to the internship thinking it would be a great opportunity to dip my toes in the worlds of public policy and social justice. I can now say it’s been a lot more than that – from day one I have been working on tasks ranging from interviews with service managers and directors of health boards, to presenting to clients and writing our final reports. I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including health and social care, criminal justice, and employability. During my time at Rocket Science, I have not only developed a wide set of skills, but I have also felt valued and that my work was having a genuine impact on both services and people.

Max Lohnert, Consultant

Much of what I do now as a Consultant was uncharted territory for me when I joined the Rocket Science team in Edinburgh as Research Intern in October 2017 after completing my MSc in the Psychology of Mental at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, every week has been filled with different activities for a range of projects across different sectors: ranging from doing fieldwork with vulnerable young people on employability programmes, large-scale survey analyses, all the way to conducting workshops with health service providers. Not only have I been supported through training and mentoring to develop a wide range skills, but our culturally flat structure means that there is much room for me bring my own ideas to the table and to develop my own areas of interest.

Charlotte Wu, Senior Consultant

I can honestly say that no day at Rocket Science is the same – we are always working on a revolving range of projects for a wide range of clients, which means we’re always getting to learn about new social issues and meet new people! There also isn’t a typical ‘Rocket Scientist’ – we have people from both humanities and sciences backgrounds (my BA was in English and MPhil in Gender Studies) and that variety helps us bring an interesting array of skills, interests and perspectives to any project. The thing that we all have in common is a commitment to supporting social change and fairness, and helping organisations to strengthen and demonstrate their impact.

I also appreciate that while it’s a busy and fast-paced working environment, Rocket Science is encouraging of us pursuing development (both professionally and outside the company) and work-life balance. I actually started at the organisation back in 2013 as a Consultant and decided I wanted to go back to studying, so went away and did a PhD in Global Health Humanities, freelancing for Rocket Science part-time, and then joined again full time in November 2018 as a Senior Consultant. The different ways that I’ve worked for Rocket Science over the years, which have changed with my own circumstances, is an example of the willingness to be flexible around individual staff members’ needs that I really appreciate and value.

 

See for more information about the open positions in Edinburgh or contact Clare Hammond for an informal chat on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected].

Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

The recent second annual Summit of London’s Business Improvement Districts convened by London First and the GLA revealed that BIDs and Civil Society organisations are more likely bedfellows than you may think . . .

The government’s civil society strategy, published in August of last year, argues that there are five foundations necessary to build thriving communities – the social sector; the public sector; people; places and business. The changing expectation of the role of business in civil society is indicative of how boundaries between the private, public and voluntary sectors are becoming increasingly porous, and how many of today’s social challenges demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.  As their name implies, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) fuse two of the fundamental elements of civil society by engaging businesses in places.

The increasing significance of place as a focus of social programmes and economic policy provided the backdrop to the London BIDs’ summit held at City Hall last month.  One round table discussion on civil society and BIDs explored their potential:  

  • as agents of community development and social integration alongside their place-shaping roles;
  • as brokers of business engagement in their local community (by connecting with local voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises);
  • as sources of place-based investment (through grants, volunteering – including pro bono expertise – as well as support in kind);
  • as partners with other stakeholders in developing place-based programmes and local initiatives.

A recent report for the Greater London Authority, Harnessing the Capital’s Giving – what is the role of the Mayor and the GLA in enabling civic philanthropy? also highlights the importance of place as a focus for local giving (of money and time) and the role of business as partners in London’s civil society.  The report refers to the work of the sixty BIDs in the capital, several of which provide proxy Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) programmes for members to channel resources and employee-volunteering into their local area, as well as to the Place-based Giving models which are a growing feature of London boroughs’ civil society infrastructure, and which a number of BIDs are also now partnering.  

Harnessing the Capital’s Giving argues that the Mayor’s “good growth” agenda is likely to elicit more sustained investment and “social value” than occasional charitable contributions from businesses’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.  The Mayor’s introduction of the Good Work Standard alongside his commitment to responsible procurement provides tools to back the kind of “purpose-led businesses” identified in the Civil Society Strategy.  “Inclusive growth” is also the overarching theme of the proposed London Industrial Strategy which aims to ensure “all of London’s places, people and communities can contribute to and benefit from the city’s growth.”

Do BIDs have a role in the changing infrastructure which supports London’s civil society?

  • Unsurprisingly, London’s BIDs have varied levels and types of interaction and involvement with civil society in their different localities; this tends to reflect the characteristics of each place, the different profile of the business community and level of resources available to each BID. Most recognise the role that BIDs have as partners in local civil society, and as conduits between businesses and the community;
  • In outer London BIDs, this tends to be more traditional volunteering – eg providing reading partners in schools; donating to foodbanks; employee team-days supporting the local community.
  • Some of the larger, inner London BIDs have developed potentially higher-impact initiatives, including 3 year-long partnering of businesses with local voluntary organisations (Bankside); tackling rough sleeping (Heart of London); creating an age-friendly business district (Angel) etc.
  • BIDs in many areas are “closer to the ground” than the local authority; as such they can be invaluable sources of data and intelligence. This enables them to raise awareness of local needs and signpost businesses which are interested in tackling community priorities e.g. SE1 BIDs working with Southwark and Lambeth collectively on local employment initiatives (recruitment; retention and “good work” practices) and the accessibility of affordable space for charitable organisations and community groups.
  • Ongoing devolution and localism (e.g. in the form of Neighbourhood Plans) and the “reinvention” of many high streets may see civil society issues rising further up BID agendas in future eg promoting meanwhile uses/pop ups and social enterprises; community representation on BID boards/ governance; re-imagining the town centre as a cultural/community nexus.

 Challenges to overcome if BIDs are to be reliable partners of a modern civil society

 Making the case – many businesses view the BID levy as part of their community investment/CSR, so asking for additional contributions to the local community needs to have a clear justification and purpose.

  • BIDs would welcome greater clarity on relevant (local) policy priorities along with frameworks and clear metrics to help define and measure community investment so that it is both more strategic, and garners as much impact as possible.
  • “Good growth” can sound a bit “motherhood and apple pie.” BIDs’ members need a clear sense of what this means at a local level; that the market/local economy works for the common good and not just exclusive sectional interests.
  • A corollary of further devolution and place-based responses to social needs could see more representation of businesses in local democratic structures, including area committees/ neighbourhood forums if not local authorities themselves.
  • The localisation of business rates potentially creates a conflict for local authorities in meeting the twin aims of maximising the tax take from local commerce, whilst also nurturing local civil society organisations.

 Whether London’s BIDs interpret their place-shaping role to include investing in local civil society is rather a moot point.  Once the business community in an area votes to establish a BID, it is almost guaranteed to remain a permanent fixture; very few BIDs are disestablished or lose their electoral mandate.  BIDs are relatively “new kids on the municipal block,” and are growing rapidly in number; it remains largely up to community partners to make the case for harnessing their potential as enablers of local civil society.

John Griffiths is a Director of Rocket Science UK Ltd and the co-author of The Evolution of London’s BIDs (2016)

Ten years on from Invisible Islington…

Ten years on from Invisible Islington…

Ten years ago marked the publication of a ground-breaking piece of ethno-graphic research which continues to impact on our work and that of our many clients and partners today.  The Cripplegate Foundation commissioned Rocket Science to shine a light on the poverty in one seemingly affluent inner-London borough and to explore the factors that make it so entrenched – ill health, debt, isolation and lack of opportunity – and to re-think the actions needed to tackle it.  Our aim was to go beyond the headline statistics and allow local people to tell their stories about the impact of grinding poverty on their everyday lives.

The report Invisible Islington, which is still available on the Cripplegate Foundation website, is credited by its Director, Kristina Glenn, for transforming the way the Foundation works and establishing Islington Giving.  It changed Rocket Science too, positioning us as a reputable voice on the changing nature of London’s civil society.  Anyone reading the Rocket Science advent calendar, a record of our diverse range of consultative work, research publications and grants’ management from 2018, or who attended our pre-Christmas networking for clients (and former colleagues) from across London’s public, private, social sectors, will see how the company operates at the cross-sectoral interface which is helping redefine civil society and forge a new social settlement for the c21st.   

A spate of reviews looking at the future of civil society – not least the government’s Civil Society Strategy and the reports of the Julia Unwin Commission’s Civil Society Futures (plus our own work in different boroughs; on London’s giving; on the potential of civic philanthropy), all published in 2018, suggests that once the small matter of Brexit is decided, there is a wealth of ideas, opportunities and challenges to act upon. 

Ahead of convening its Big Network Day at City Hall next month, London Funders have commissioned us to undertake a “review of the reviews” – a combination of literature review and think piece. This is an opportunity to reflect on the big social challenges of today and how a modern civil society can create the kind of partnerships necessary to realise London’s full potential; creating the social value which stems from the kinds of civic agency, participatory democracy, cooperative practices and forms of self-determination showcased in Civil Society Futures is something which Rocket Science has been researching and enabling for well over a decade.

 

For more information, please contact [email protected]

 

From: Civil Society in England – Its current state and future opportunity

Harnessing the capital’s giving

Rocket Science’s review for the Greater London Authority argues that the Mayoral priority of enabling “good growth” provides a modern narrative for harnessing corporate philanthropy  

The GLA commissioned Rocket Science to undertake a review of civic philanthropy against a backdrop of extensive reflection about the future of civil society in the capital.[1]  At a time of political uncertainty around Brexit, the shrinking role of the state in people’s lives and increasingly complex social needs compounded by widening inequality of wealth, we detected high expectations of the Mayor of one of the richest cities in the world to take more of a lead.  The Review found less consensus around either the specific types of intervention or initiative the Mayor might take, or whether the concept of philanthropy, which is an anachronism to some, befits a modern and dynamic global city.

With the private sector increasingly seen as a key component of a civil society, the Review argues that the Mayor’s “Good Growth” agenda provides a modern narrative which will enable the GLA to elicit more sustained investment and “social value” than occasional contributions from businesses’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. Reflecting the Mayoralty’s efforts to widen civic participation and community engagement, the Review shows how the GLA is already securing at least as much value from employers’ giving of time and expertise as money. However, it also found teams across the Authority working independently without clear strategic direction on how to engage corporate philanthropy, adopting largely opportunistic approaches to partner business.

The GLA’s eliciting social value from companies, is symptomatic of a growing trend particularly among some of the larger businesses we consulted of “moving beyond CSR” and the increasingly discredited notion of a tacit social contract in which businesses give something back to society in return for a “licence to operate.”  We detected signs of a different model of doing good in London’s private sector, one where businesses create social value by investing in the same activities required to generate profit – procurement; recruitment and reward; skills; research, development and social innovation – often by entering long-term partnerships with charities and civil society organisations.[2]

The GLA’s tapping into this whole-company approach is one corollary of the Mayor’s “Good Growth” agenda and is being underpinned by the introduction of new instruments like the Good Work Standard, as well as the Social Value Act.  Recognising the potential of business is also a recurring theme of the government’s new Civil Society Strategy which seeks to back “purpose-led” businesses committed to social or environmental objectives alongside making profit.

Such prominence given to business in debates about the future of civil society would not have been entertained even just a few years ago.  Changed perceptions of the role and potential of the private sector – from both inside and outside companies – is indicative of how boundaries between the private, pubic and voluntary sectors have become increasingly porous, and how so many of today’s social needs and challenges demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.[3] The Review identified scope for the GLA significantly to amplify this message, in effect re-purposing corporate giving for the 21st century and doing more to harness the social value generated by London’s businesses.[4]  Currently, however, connections and synergies between different programmes and projects funded by the GLA are being missed.  Partly this is a consequence of a new administration taking time to develop its strategic priorities, articulating its vision for civil society in the capital and refocusing inherited programmes, like Team London, on the themes of social integration, community engagement and social mobility.

Businesses consulted for the Review spoke of their frustration in having multiple contact points with the GLA and its lacking a coordinated, joined-up approach on corporate engagement.  As the definition of a modern civil society shifts and broadens to include business, the distinction between the GLA’s commercial partnerships (for which there is a dedicated team within the GLA) and business offers of a philanthropic nature will only become further blurred. One of the Review’s overarching recommendations is to establish a single point of contact at City Hall to bring far greater visibility and coordination to the Authority’s engagement with all sources of civic philanthropy, particularly those aligned with Mayoral priorities.

The recommendation that City Hall establishes a single point of contact for engagement with civic philanthropists is one of a series of actions and recommendations. 

Harnessing the Capital’s Giving – what is the role of the Mayor and Greater London Authority in enabling civic philanthropy with all our recommendations can be downloaded here – Rocket Science – GLA Philanthropy Review.

For further information on the Review’s findings, please contact [email protected]


[1] For the most recent contribution to this public debate see the Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018; Also Civil Society Futures is an ongoing national conversation about how English civil society can flourish in a fast changing world. Through a wide range of different media, Civil Society Futures has engaged those involved in all forms of civic action, including business.

[2] The future of doing good in the UK, Sonia Sodah for the Big Lottery Fund, 2017; See also chapter 4 of the Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018 “; Rocket Science Focus Group with large businesses, 30th April 2018.

[3] Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018; https://civilsocietyfutures.org/playback-business-perspective-civil-society/;.

[4] A recent study for the City of London Corporation helpfully traces the evolution and increasing partnership approach to corporate philanthropy, though admits that relatively few companies have yet progressed from “being good to great” – Corporate Community Investment – Four Routes to Impact, City of London Corporation and Corporate Citizenship, 2018.

Rocket Science publishes review of philanthropy for the Greater London Authority

Earlier this year Rocket Science were commissioned by the Greater London Authority to produce a Review of Philanthropy in London.

As you may know, last week Centre for London published More, Better, Together: A Strategic Review of Giving in London; this follows earlier calls for action, from the London Fairness Commission (2016) and Charities Aid Foundation (2017), for the Mayor to use his office to harness civic philanthropy and similar private initiative for public good.

Rocket Science’s Review of the Greater London Authority’s role in supporting philanthropy is intended to help shape and inform the Mayor and the GLA’s response to these calls. You can download a copy of the Review, Harnessing the capital’s giving: What is the role of the Mayor and Greater London Authority in enabling civic philanthropy?

I hope the proposals we have suggested in the Review will help improve the effectiveness of private, particularly business giving in working alongside statutory and charitable resources to tackle London’s rising social needs.   A GLA response to the research is expected in October 2018.

As always, we would be very pleased to hear any feedback on the Review, and ideas or offers of help to implement these recommendations.

The GLA commissioned Rocket Science to undertake independent research into the role the Mayor and GLA could play in enabling philanthropy in London. We welcome Rocket Science’s findings and recommendations and along with the Centre for London’s recent ‘More, better, together’ philanthropy report. The GLA is considering its role and will respond to both reviews in October.