Street League recently shared our annual report, which had a strong message behind it – charities need to be more transparent when reporting their outcomes, with a #CallforClarity social media campaign launched alongside it.

As highlighted in a blog written by CEO, Matt Stevenson-Dodd, charities need to follow Street League’s lead when it comes to sharing their impact results over the year. He said: “Driven by a scarcity of funding, we feel compelled to tell ever more hard-hitting stories about the beneficiaries we serve rather than balancing this storytelling with hard facts about the actual impact we achieve (or don’t).”

Stevenson-Dodd continued: “I believe we have reached the pinnacle of this story telling culture. This was epitomized last year with the collapse of Kids Company who were seemingly built only on good stories with very few ‘facts’ to back them up. This needs to change. We need to balance good storytelling with hard facts, even if these hard facts don’t always tell a good story.”

The #CallforClarity campaign, which received strong support, sparked debate and resulted in a number of questions coming our way. Below, Matt Stevenson-Dodd answers those questions.

What about smaller organisations who can’t adopt these golden rules?

“When we set out to launch the #CallforClarity we were really minded that this needed to apply to small organisations, as well large organisations. That’s why we went for things that are really quite high-level, rather than intricate detail. So, for our Three Golden Rules, we wanted to make sure things like being able to put numbers after a percentage were pretty straightforward things to do. Never over claiming your impact is also really easy and it’s a mindset that the organisation needs to get into, to be honest about what you’re doing. The third one is perhaps a little bit more difficult. That’s around auditing your outcomes and making sure you have evidence for everything you do. But again, once you get into the mindset it can be quite easy to do within the organisation – that’s why we chose these as they’re high enough level to adopt and not too complicated.”

How could this approach work for preventative work vs. positive destinations? 

“Street League were very clear about what we wanted to do; we wanted to be focussed on an outcome that was very easy to measure. We did this through conducting a theory of change where we looked at the whole of the organisation and what we were trying to achieve – who we were working with and even who weren’t going to be working with – to make sure that we came to a result that was measurable so that we understood that. I think if you’re working in preventative work or you’re working in something that’s more difficult to measure, like mental health or self-esteem improvement, you’ve got to ask yourself what is the long-term impact. So, with preventative work around crime, do the crime statistics for the population you’re working with drop and can you measure that. But it all comes down to theory of change and what you are trying to do, and being open and honest enough to know that you don’t always get it right. Street League gets some things wrong and we need to learn from those, move forward, implement the changes and hope things improve.”

How much extra time or cost does it take to record this level of data?

“Clearly you have to put investment into getting data of this sort from the organisation but I would say it’s absolutely essential for what we’re trying to do, for two reasons; one is that you’re able to learn whether you’re doing something right or not and it’s not based on a gut feeling about whether or not it’s the right thing to do. It’s based on fact and whether something is actually having the impact that you want it to or not, and if not can you change it. The other reason why it’s beneficial to measure impact is that it’s very clear to have a conversation with funders about what they’re getting for their money. In this age of less and less funding around and money available, it’s some important to show that you are being effective as a charity compared to others, even in the private sector, to really give you a position. I think it’s a worthwhile investment. You’re talking about investing in something like a monitoring and evaluation system and maybe some staff time to look at the data and to show that in a way that’s useful to the organisation. But, really, if you look at how much money you invest in controlling your finances and looking after and making sure that they’re alright, you could argue that you’re meant to be spending the same amount in monitoring and evaluation. Those two things together become so important.”

Talking about outcomes instead of people seems very impersonal. How do you avoid people becoming just a number?

“I think this is a really good question because a charity is ultimately here to help people and that’s what we’ve got to keep focussed on. What we are using our date for is to help us get better at helping people and I think that as long as you see the data about being about that support mechanism to helping you do your job better, rather than it being about purely numbers coming through an organisation and you never meet or understand what people’s needs are. We make the point in the annual report that charity should be about helping people who most need that help. This data and these statistics help you understand whether you’re actually reaching the right people or whether you’re just going out there and seeing anyone, whether they need the service or not. It’s about the date supporting the heart of the charity, which is about helping people, rather than the data leading them.”

How do you ensure results based organisations aren't just choosing the easiest to work with to ensure more outcomes?

“Clearly there’s a problem for results based organisations in looking for the easy wins and the returns, and I think that you have to really say, as a charity, that you’re here to help those who most need us. How do you know that? Because you measure who’s coming in and you measure the input. At Street League we look at things like the postcode that they live in and is it in the top 20% or 30% deprived areas in the country, we look at highest educational attainment to make sure people are coming in to us with little or no qualifications and therefor we can really help them. We look at length of time unemployed, we look at social economic barriers that they’re facing as well, whether that’s a housing problem, a drug addiction or crime related, and any other things that will stop them going into work, and by analysing that data we’re able to understand that we’re not just getting the easiest people through the door and into jobs, we’re actually helping the people who really need us. That is the motivation of the charity. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Show your support for our #CallforClarity campaign on Twitter by using the hashtag.