Weeknotes 2021
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Weeknotes 2021

Weeknotes 2021 — week 30

This week’s notes are a must for the Phil Collins fan out there

So the Olympics have finally started, and it’s great to get reacquainted with many sports I only seem to watch once every four years. Obviously dressage is always a highlight, though sadly no Phil Collins soundtrack this year. I suppose it was a long shot — you might say, it was ‘against all odds’. Terrible, I know. Guess now I’m really showing my true colours.

But Seriously…I have been enjoying the ball delivery system in the rugby, and this only a week or so after we put two billionaires into space. What a time to be alive!

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

R,D & D

On Monday we started our pilot of a new performance management system, which I’m hopeful is going to further accentuate our culture of learning and improvement. We’ve decided to use OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) to help each of our project teams better understand what is and isn’t working, and make decisions on what the data is telling them. OKRs are an alternative to KPIs, and essentially serve as a way of setting shared goals that teams work towards. It creates a way of both tracking progress but also creating alignment and engagement. In other words, they help drive behaviour and performance towards a shared outcome. This is why I’m keen on them — they establish a direct link between the work we do and the change we’re trying to create.

While we’ve never used this process at scale, we have experience of implementing it successfully to turn our Twine apps around when user numbers and engagement were stuttering back in 2019. OKRs were central to how the team managed its work and progress. They were reviewed every two weeks at a team meeting which also included a ‘show and tell’ (where the team showed each other what they had been working on) and a ‘retrospective’ (where the team reflected on what has worked well and what could be improved). This combination of activities meant the team could easily update and review their progress against the OKRs, using both quantitative and qualitative inputs. Progress against the OKRs was updated, and work set out for the next two-week sprint accordingly, updating the ‘initiatives’ we could undertake to improve our progress. The results were vast improvements to user acquisition, retention and engagement at the same time as reducing costs.

As we roll-out this process across all of our work, it occurred to me how helpful it has been having a space within an organisation where you can test and trial new ways of working. In that respect Twine has proved a very useful sandbox for new ideas, not only OKRs but also the data-informed and design-led processes and practices we’re also now rolling out. It has also obviously been very instructive for our digital work too.

As part of the latest pilot we’ve prototyped a simple reporting tool and dashboard in Excel for each Project team, which can then be aggregated to show an overall picture. We’re piloting during August, so will feed back as we learn about what works well about this approach and where there are challenges.

The Excel prototype (with dummy data)

Impact!

More evidence this week that letting communities have greater control over the decisions affecting their lives is a good idea. The latest example comes from the evaluation of our community-led housing programme. Of the 900 new homes we’ve funded, 93% of them are classified as ‘affordable’ — defined as being for ‘Affordable Rent’, ‘Shared Ownership’ or ‘Social Rent’, and only 7% are for market rent or sale. So when communities can choose, they choose to build affordable, good quality environmentally friendly homes for each other. As Phil Collins would say, ‘take me home!

But how we scale out such innovations? Ensuring the right support infrastructure is in place for community businesses is a good place to start, though as this latest literature review highlights, we need to do more work to understand it’s true value and impact.

Finally, our Theory of Change took another step closer to being completed this week, and is already proving to be a useful tool for how we think about our model of social change and innovation. I’ve also been reviewing the first draft of the associated Learning Plan — a series of questions, indicators and associated methods to help us understand the performance and impact of our new strategy — and again this looks like it will inform and shape our research, evaluation and learning programme for years to come. But it will take time — as Phil said, you can’t hurry love. Or data collection and analysis.

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Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

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Social researcher and writer. Putting theory into practice, to make the world a better place.