One of the questions people ask us is whether you can evidence the impact that intentional asset-based community building is having. It is a very interesting and often loaded question. When asked it is usually from someone funded in a role who is feeling the pressure of their funder or commissioner to show and prove impact, usually by counting things! It also comes from those wanting to find ways to enable community building and invest in community building, and are seeking ways to shape a framework that those issuing the resources will value and understand.
My immediate gut response is always ‘you can’t measure something you treasure!’ and I hold firm to that belief! My good friend Cormac Russell explores in depth the question of measuring impact in this Blog. He sums it up by saying ‘you measure best when you treasure first’.
My second response is to ask ‘who is this evidence for and for what purpose do they want to have evidence?’ It feels our society has an increasing obsession with wanting to count everything, to seek ‘value for money’, to see the greatest return on investment, and have measured evidenced outcomes for every detail of activity (just utter Ofsted to anybody in education and see how they tense up). This goes against the ethos of asset-based community development and community building efforts.
But if public money, whether public health, local government, national lottery or charitable trusts, is being encouraged and used to support locally embedded community building efforts then the question of evaluation and of measuring impact is going to follow. So therefore, having a way of evidencing impact and measuring outcomes in this arena is inevitable and something that will require careful navigation.
Street Connecting is part of a funded inter-generational community building project called Together We Can! A core commitment of Together We Can! is to open up a space to experiment – to try out ideas and approaches that are ‘locally-grown’, innovative, and sometimes even a bit risky – and to learn from those experiments, both from what has gone well and from what has proved more difficult. I think our evaluation of Together We Can! has begun to land on a way of doing it that works for the funded outcomes of our project (National Lottery & Big Local), but more importantly it works our collective community building efforts, and here’s why:
I believe it helps us to better understand our story, tell our story, own our story and share our story with others. It helps us in our unearthing the treasure in our community and celebrating it.
It helps us reflect upon what’s gone well and what didn’t go so well. It doesn’t just tell the idealistic, optimistic, sentimental, or wistful perspective. It acknowledges that community building is tough, has challenges, and things go wrong. But we are always learning.
It helps understand the difference the investment is making. We gather stories from our neighbourhood that has more places where people can feel like they belong, and of neighbours who feel more connected to each other, more able to overcome obstacles to living flourishing lives, and more able to share their passions and skills with each other. These are the outcomes we are measuring for our funder, but more deeply these are outcomes we as a neighbourhood want to measure, and we feel this helps capture and reflect the growth and change we are witnessing in our neighbourhood.
It helps us to discern where attention, energy, time and financial resources in our neighbourhood should be focused, and helps communicate to a funder (and in-turn other funders, institutions and decision makers) how they could invest in places and people.
Please have a read of our report. We feel it begins to articulate a way of evidencing impact with the hope of seeing more locally-led and rooted community building happening in our neighbourhood, and in neighbourhoods around the world.
To download the report please click: Together We Can! Annual Report Year 2
Together We Can! Evaluation Report – Year 2 (2018)
Revd Dr Al Barrett, ODCF Trustee,
TWC! project manager
Jane Perry, Freelance Social Researcher,
TWC! external evaluation support
Together We Can! Is a partnership project between Open Door Community Foundation , Worth Unlimited and Firs & Bromford Neighbours Together. The project is jointly funded by The Big Lottery Reaching Communities and Big Local in Firs & Bromford.