We’ve always done it, so why don’t we measure it?
Posted: Sun, 02 Jul 2017 10:46
Speaking at the Healthy Stadia conference, Nancy Hey shared the findings from the research of Samir Singh Nathoo, Community Development Officer at Arsenal in the Community and Clore Social Leadership Fellow. Samir spent three months as part of his fellowship at the Centre, talking to community organisations in Islington.
When I became a Clore Social Leadership Fellow, there were two questions I wanted to answer.
Having worked for a decade and a half in education, equality, disability, health, social inclusion, heritage and charitable initiatives for mostly young people across north London, I wanted to know: How can, and why should my organisation, Arsenal in the Community, measure wellbeing?
I also spoke to the voluntary and community sector in Islington to find out whether the local voluntary and community sector consider themselves to be delivering wellbeing outcomes, even if they are not currently measuring them?
The timing for my research at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing was perfect: the first batch of evidence from the research teams at the Centre on music and singing interventions was published in November 2015, with guidance for community wellbeing due later in 2017. The London Borough of Islington is looking at wellbeing measurements for its third sector and the 2016 Department for Culture, Media and Sport strategy has wellbeing at its heart.
We've not been measuring what we do
To jump straight to the core of my findings: a real revelation for me is that both Football In The Community and the voluntary and community sector have not been measuring what we actually do: mainly improving wellbeing.
Wellbeing is almost too obvious an outcome for community organisations: pensioners lunch clubs, football tournaments, social action events, these all lead to increased community wellbeing. We know that, we see it in our work on a daily basis.
But we don't measure it, especially in smaller organisations. We've not even realised we could measure this in a meaningful or systematic way, and ask for funding to do it.
Wellbeing seen as a 'soft' outcome
Community wellbeing (linked to social capital) is about, among other things: feeling safe and supported; recognised and appreciated; having a sense of belonging; opportunities and a sense of purpose; happiness, enjoyment and fun. Often, these have been assumed, and seen as inherent and 'soft' outcomes, compared to things like qualifications or attendance, and so we don't measure them.
We, of course, still have to show hard outcomes, like employment rates, but we also need to measure how we got there: for example, by creating a greater sense of confidence, belonging, safety and local trust.
Wellbeing doesn't require new questions and measurement
Outcomes measurement is nothing new, but wellbeing outcomes have been overlooked and underused, despite offering us not only a better dataset, but also a more insightful way to show our impact and tell the true story of how we make a difference. And, best of all for overstretched community sector staff and volunteers, it doesn't require new questions and measures: they already exist in the form of the 'ONS four' (with guidance on how to insert them into your surveys) and other pre-existing wellbeing and life satisfaction survey questions.
A real strength of a holistic outcomes approach, as opposed to narrow traditional outputs around, for example, health or employment, is that any organisation can choose what is most relevant to their field of work or local community.
In particular, where community organisations are delivering across a wide range of themes, a wellbeing approach can be a common currency. Two very separate health and employment projects could have the same wellbeing outcomes, which allows for better comparison and integration into the wider organisational aims.
A wellbeing lens helps us re-focus on what really matters
I have long-held frustrations with our deficit approach in the community sector. It is not a 'tackling gangs' project that we deliver; it's one that makes young people feel part of something, and gives models for healthy relationships, and as a consequence may give them options other than joining gangs.
Within the sector, we talk of disadvantaged young people, but this is looking through a narrow economic lens. In fact, if we use a more holistic wellbeing lens, we are working to stop them becoming disadvantaged. Likewise, we may think we are stopping loneliness and isolation when we run an older people's lunch project. What if we considered it a 'community spirit' project, instead? How does that re-focus us on the bigger goals of our organisation?
A wellbeing lens can help us to focus on the positive. It's a way to shift to a preventative approach, rather than just focussing on the problem.
Above all, viewing our work through a wellbeing lens is about looking at what really matters to the people and communities we serve.
When I talked to those working on the ground, they were enthused and excited by the idea of a wellbeing lens. This is key when evaluation and measurement has often been viewed as a cumbersome burden of reporting and box ticking, usually as part of funding requirements.
Support and leadership is needed for this from the Local Authority and within the Sport For Development sector. There are many ways to measure impact out there and the vast choice is often part of the barrier to doing this in the first place.
The Centre is a bridge between knowledge and action, and I encourage all those working with communities to consider viewing their work through a wellbeing lens and to measure wellbeing outcomes.
For the purposes of my report, I am taking Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) to also include Football in the Community (FITC) and the Sport for Development sector. Any recommendations related to the VCS are therefore applicable to FITC.
*This article was first published on what works wellbeing in April 2017.