Written by Graeme Sinnott, Active Partnerships National Team
6 months on from Why is everyone talking about measurement conversations continue almost daily about the topic. At both a local and national level. Inside and outside of the network.
It’s a different conversation now
The blog in August identified a series of measurement tensions that shifts in approaches to local delivery were creating. For example; how do we stay credible and prove our organisational value while fully committing to mutual accountability? How do we know if the system is becoming more organised in a way that is enabling people to be active?
People appear increasingly comfortable talking about these tensions and that there isn’t a right or wrong, or a formula to follow to reach an answer. That different perspectives simply represent where they as individuals and their organisation are on their journey of enabling people to be active. And therefore, how they view measurement will be on a journey too.
Talking about tensions becoming the norm
There has been a noticeable shift to talking more about how we impact on the inter-connected factors that influence how active people can be. Whether that be workplace policies encouraging active lifestyles or the built environment designing physical activity back into everyday life.
I’ve deliberately not used the word ‘complexity’ here. A few people have recently shared that saying our work is complex sounds like you are opening a conversation with an excuse. Maybe tensions isnt the right word either but it seems acceptable at the moment. Alternative suggestions welcome! Language is very important though, which is covered later. So maybe this is worthy of further exploration.
Purpose then measurement
If the work is increasingly being recognised as being about addressing the (complex) factors affecting people’s lives, questions about ‘measurement’ have also been reframed. And re-ordered. Measurement is flowing from conversations about what our purpose is. 6 months ago the starting point was more measurement specific. I’ve heard recently a lot of questions along these lines:
“If that is the work, then how do we understand what is changing in these factors as a result of our collective efforts?”
“How do we know if the system is aligning?”
“What is the scope of the system we should be observing to see if it is aligning?”
“Do these changes represent progress? And who decides what progress is?”
“Who values the roles we all play in affecting change? How do we measure that?”
“What are we really learning from the work?”
“Can we extrapolate the stories of change? Should we even try to do this?”
“How do we translate learning into practical ideas for how we work?”
Common ground in the conversations
Adopting a whole system approach. Doing system change. Thinking systemically. Building a social movement. A local delivery pilot. The primary role. A priority place. No doubt there are more, but these are the types of descriptions I hear people use interchangeably to describe elements of local work. Of courses there are differences within these. But from my recent experiences of being part of conversations within these different approaches I hear and see emerging common ground.
I hear people talking about the factors that influence how active our communities can be.
Talking about system change; “an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organised in a way that achieves something.”
Talking about the whole system; “the ability to see and understand how the different elements connect.”
Yes, some approaches may be deemed to be more advanced in their thinking or implementation. That in itself is a debate as to what represents progress and who decided! But the direction of travel feels similar. Some are just at different stages along the way.
The common ground is people are talking about creating the conditions for an active nation. Talking about connecting the system for the benefit of our communities. That is what binds the conversations. That this is the work. Making sense of learning and measuring progress is not an extra requirement in the day job. It is the work and directs our efforts day to day.
Measuring on the common ground
As referenced above, a series of measurement related questions are increasingly being debated within local work. And there appears to be an appetite to think about how we collectively address these challenges. Not looking for the answer from someone but building the way forward with the people doing the work.
I nervously sent a draft of the blog in August to 5 people who I thought were grappling with similar. My list had 35 people on it this time. I’d never reflected on who was on this list or why. It seems to simply be people inside and outside of the network who over the last 6 months I’ve had what felt like meaningful conversations about local work and understanding if progress is being made.
Does 5 increasing to 35 people indicate there is a measurement movement happening? And I’m well aware there are many other people talking about this too!
It does feel like the way forward to enhance our measurement approach lies in conversations and exploration of purpose and role.
I get asked quite a lot ‘who is advanced in their approach to measurement?’ and ‘what could we replicate’? I have deliberately not shared a long list of documents summarising approaches or a list of areas. Approaches need to be talked through and explored in the local context with which they sit. If you want to learn simply getting involved in the conversations is the easiest way!
Thinking about measurement in the work
There are though what appear to be emerging principles from the conversations that may help when thinking about measurement. Some of these might sound obvious and that is fine. But the difference is they previously weren’t an obvious part of measurement conversations. They appear now to be at the heart of it.
- Focus intensely on purpose and role; Build clarity on why we are working together, what roles we will play, what shared values and experiences bind us together in the work. This creates a shared understanding of what the work is and therefore what needs to be measured to monitor progress.
- ‘Change’, ‘progress’ and ‘value’ are different things; I picked up on this distinction in discussions with Sport England recently. Change is value-neutral and simply a description of what is happening. That is different to Progress, which is a judgement someone makes about the change (ie, positive or negative). And the Value of the progress and what people have contributed is then a further judgement. And people will have different perspectives on it all! The terms are used interchangeably but actually are very different things.
- Decide together; Descriptions or judgements on change, progress and value should come from within. By the people doing the work. Judgements from people outside the work don’t typically create ownership and agreement of what is changing. How can we create spaces to explore perspectives and reach shared judgements on change and progress and what value has been created by working collaboratively?
- Seek different perspectives; How we address social problems and understand what is making a difference is being talked about everywhere. You can’t miss it in the news. FSG, an organisation supporting leaders in creating large-scale, lasting social change wrote a useful blog here on ‘How do you evaluate system change? A place to start’ and are running a free webinar on the topic on 28 February. Their Collective Impact Forum is a useful resource worth exploring.
- Approach the whole from different angles; People approach the measurement challenge from different angles. Whether that be measuring end user outcomes, measuring system change or measuring organisation value. Whatever the angle, there is no right or wrong. The starting point was what mattered most to the person at that time and is therefore a useful lever to open up a discussion about how that specific element fits into the bigger picture of purpose and role.
- Grow the conversations;Inviting people to share their views can accelerate the number of people talking about something and seemingly creates momentum. This opens up opportunities and an appetite to tackle the big questions collectively. Blog are a simple way to draw in perspectives. That learning along the way together is perhaps more important than actually finding an answer. It builds shared understanding of what people value and how they see things.
- Use ‘measurement’ as a method for contributing to change; Use the understanding of what is changing in the work to stimulate debate, to draw others in, to identify questions, to help air tensions, to reinforce why people are working together. Share learning both within existing networks and put it into new networks to explore different perspectives. I’m sure you will have seen the increasing number of blogs trying similar.
- Bring the future to life; We can get stuck on talking about how difficult measurement is. But we can use the challenge to paint a picture of how good it would be to work in a system that is connecting and working how we’d like it to. Dr Toby Lowe’s blog on ‘What does a place look like when the system is operating effectively for people who experience severe disadvantage?’ is a helpful view on this from outside of our sector.
- Language is important; How to describe the work and articulate progress of the journey will be defined by the people doing the work. Rather than structures or frameworks imposed on the work. The ‘strategic outputs’, for example, within the Performance Management Improvement Framework for the network remain useful as indicators of change and the types of themes we are trying to impact upon. But the language of the outputs has not been commonly adopted. Instead, local change is described through language that resonates with the people doing the work locally.
- Observe, capture and make sense of what is going on; Reflective logs and diaries are useful tools for writing down what is happening in the work on a day to day basis. The skill of reflective writing helps you to think about the process of learning about what is happening and what it means for where next. Creating space as a team and with partners to collectively reflect and make sense of the work allows for a shared journey of learning and identifying future direction for the work together.
Last week I worked out that 75% of my whole week was spent talking to people in Herefordshire & Worcestershire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Lancashire, Oxfordshire, and The Humber about what is going on locally in the work. Each conversation started from a different angle but they all largely ending up being about purpose, role and how to understand progress in creating the conditions for an active nation.
To keep building on the conversations, all views on any of the topics covered in this blog are very much welcomed. You may want to think about some of the questions below. Please do share your views openly in this thread or feel free to contact me directly.
There is an opportunity at the Network Convention in March to join the conversations too. There is a specific workshop on day 2; ‘Creating the conditions for an active nation: How do we know if we are making progress?’, and measurement will no doubt be a theme covered throughout the 2 days.
PS - I’m still very much learning how to distil what I hear and see. And how to write an effective blog! There is a useful blog about the value of blogs here. Any feedback welcome on if this format is useful!
Questions to consider
-What matters most in your work at the moment?
-Does the blog resonate? What parts would you agree with? What might you disagree with and have learning that provides an alternative view?
-What perspectives and learning would you like to add to the conversations?
-How do we put learning at the heart of local systems?
-How do we become more deliberate in our approach to learning together and collectively addressing the challenges in the work? Locally and nationally?
-How do we grow the conversations across the network, and beyond? Who with?
07795 067 066