Collaborative Impact Through the RSA Fellowship
By: Blair Glencorse. This post was originally published by RSA United States.
I arrived breathlessly and slightly late to an RSA Fellows social Entrepreneurs Network breakfast at RSA House last summer. My tardiness was caused in part by a sleepless night thinking about- of all things- impact measurement. I had been struggling for weeks with how I could best measure the effectiveness of the work I had begun through my organization the Accountability Lab. The Lab empowers citizens around the world to develop creative ideas- and the communities around them- that can make power-holders more responsible. The RSA had generously awarded Challenge and Catalyst grants to one of our projects and I wanted to make sure I was measuring the right outcomes in the best ways.
A central challenge is that accountability is a difficult issue to measure- especially as we view it, which is as a generational process to empower citizens the demand more of decision-makers. Outputs are relatively easy to measure, but outcomes and impact over time are more tricky. Another is that so much of what we work on lends itself to qualitative measures, but is far harder to quantify to assess “value per pound” spent. Finally, the issue is further complicated by the post-conflict contexts in which we work- where communication, logistics and coordination can be difficult, and where questions asked in the wrong way can yield a wide variety of answers.
It was with these thoughts in my mind that I sat down to listen to the excellent speakers at the breakfast, and happened to begin chatting to my neighbor, also a Fellow – Steve Coles of Intentionality– an organization that helps build the capacity of social enterprises to measure and tell a compelling story of the difference they make in the world. Of course, Steve and I very quickly began to talk about the issues keeping me up at night and were soon downstairs plotting next steps over tea. In subsequent months we carried out a series of discussions by phone with my colleagues to design an impact survey for our work that would systematically map our outcomes in 2013.
Steve’s very generous pro-bono support was catalytic- he helped us develop an understanding of what we could measure and how; the ways to ask the right questions to get the information we needed; the tools we could use to gather data; and how to best synthesize and communicate our results. The outputs are our 2013 Impact Report and infographic– with the survey questions and responses published online here to support complete transparency of the process. We have been using these documents as a really useful platform to engage partners, supporters and potential funders on the impact of our work and will replicate and scale the process again in 2014.
The value of the RSA Fellowship is the fellows themselves and the ways in which the RSA brings people together to facilitate the kind of collaborations we developed with Intentionality. My meeting with Steve was fortuitous and timely, but I’ve realised that if you hang around RSA House long enough these kinds of meetings occur all the time. That’s how relationships are built, partnerships are formed and change happens. And the café downstairs has excellent tea if you’re a bit sleepy.
Blair Glencorse is an RSA Fellow and Executive Director of the Accountability Lab. You can follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab and Blair @blairglencorse. You can follow Steve Coles on Twitter on @steve_coles or Intentionality on @Intentionality_