Making an impact (it’s not just about numbers)

It’s about how you make people feel ❤️

Survey of cultural heritage organisations, 2017 —Impact Insights Report, Europeana, CC BY-SA

Back in 2002 my first job was to generate value from innovations created by academics. This varied from negotiating licence fees through to building relationships which facilitated the transfer of knowledge between academia and the rest of the world. If measuring the value that was generated in this job was as easy as counting the pennies I negotiated then my job would have been much easier. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. Not yet.

How to articulate our problem .. and our progress: Europe’s iceberg of digital cultural heritage. Europeana Foundation, CC BY-SA

After 10 years in a value creation roles mostly held in the UK public sector I moved to a policy role for a European not for profit organisation. Their goal: to transform the world with culture. Since Europeana’s inception they have worked tirelessly to develop and deliver an infrastructure for the cultural heritage sector to participate in the digital world. By delivering infrastructure we create opportunity, and by creating opportunity we create value. Right?

Wrong. Or at least that’s how it feels. And feeling is important here, because when it comes to cultural heritage, and here there is symmetry with the academic world, the impression you make on others is often more important that the amount of revenue or funding you achieve.

Numbers are increasingly alienating us.

It’s not that we — Europeana — haven’t made our mark ; 52 million european cultural heritage objects published online using our standardised legal and technical frameworks. It’s that this number, and all the other numbers we use to describe our pan european success are just too big and vague for the person in the street to relate to, too vast and unobtainable for cultural heritage institutes to really feel a part of, and for the policy makers, it’s simply not enough.

It’s not always positive: The learning gap of citizens visiting our WW1 online resources— Workers underground impact case study, Europeana CC BY-SA

To go further than generating regular business metrics, we need to learn how to articulate the connections between the things that we do with the eventual changes that our work brings about. These connections, and their relationship to our stakeholders, is our impact. And it’s how we start to frame those less tangible but hugely important achievements you know come from your work, but are just not captured in regular metrics.

Does some of this sound familiar? Maybe you’ve been doing parts of this all along, you just didn’t call it impact. Maybe you’re a pro.

At Europeana, we’ve been making these connections informally for years, but until this past year we hadn’t been able to make the step from pure numbers, to being able to articulate the change we want — we hope — to bring about.

Making the leap from cold hard numbers to reporting that warm & fuzzy feeling

Interested? Watch a sub-2 minute introduction to the impact playbook, Europeana, CC-BY-SA

We’ve taken our work in this area on a few steps since our first impact assessment and last year published the impact toolkit. The toolkit represents a set of resources which guide cultural heritage institutions through the process of better understanding their impact. Developed with partners from across the sector, along with impact and business process designers, the core elements of the impact toolkit are;

  • impact playbook — the first instalment outlines our impact manifesto, and provides a method along with workshops, slide decks and canvases for you to make a start designing your impact. Based on Prof Simon TannersBalanced Value Impact Model’, every step you read in the book is based on our own experiences, trials and errors.
  • case studies — if this sounds good, then you’ll want to read more. There’s a lot out there but we want to bring you examples from the sector that use the same methods we do. By the end of 2018, we’ll have added five more case studies to our virtual library.
  • community — as we (literally) travel the world sharing our impact stories, we gather along the way a group of people who share our interest and curiosity in this developing subject for the cultural heritage sector. We started a linkedin community as a starting place for sharing stories and asking questions.

This takes us one step further to being able to better express how we make an impact, how we make people feel, and what changes we bring about through our work. If only I had this type of resource fifteen years ago it feels like it would have been much easier to express why my activities were generating value, for whom and how.

We’re not alone. Everyone’s doing it …

Educators are doing it: The London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) has provided early years education and nursery services to Londoners for 114 years. They took to the time to understand their impact, and their 2016 impact report is a great example of how impact integrates with existing reporting mechanisms.

LEYF impact model,

National funding authorities are doing it: In the UK, underpinned by a sector wide approach to understanding and evaluating impact, Research Councils invest £3bn of public funding in research to bring about a positive impact in society and the economy.

The United Nations are doing it: The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) establish a framework of changes that need to occur to address global issues. Under the framework, countries and organisations and even individuals can map their actions against the development towards the SDGs through to 2030.

I’ll be sharing more about how I use agile and lean start up principles in a not for profit setting, working across a pan European network and remote teams to develop and deliver great (and effective) policy. I also write about how organisations can better understand their impact on society and culture — by designing, assessing and narrating their impact. And a little bit about my project of passion; exploring ways to increase the civic engagement of overseas citizens in a digital world.

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