You, like me, probably think of archiving as towers of dusty books locked away in a bomb proof basement somewhere, solely of interest to aged historians. You might also think that this is a long way from the world of open data, however today I’ve discovered that they may be inextricably linked.
This is all thanks to Andrew Cooper, Research Manager at The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund who held a fantastic event today with Jack Meyers, President of the Rockefeller Archive Centre to talk about archiving in foundations.
Well the dust is only beginning to settle on the Opening Doors conference on Open Data last week, and we’re beginning to bring together all the learning from the day.
We had a great opening session with Karl Wilding (Head of Research and Policy at NCVO) throwing down the gauntlet and asking why we should really be interested in open data at all – how can it help charities? Dan Sutch, Head of Development Research here at Nominet Trust, starting to answer that question by highlighting how developments in technology map on to an historical strength of charities in trying to improve how we address social challenges (including an example from 1854 http://understandinguncertainty.org/coxcombs).
I love evidence based interventions. In fact if I am arguing with my girlfriend about something other than the washing up, one of the first things I do is ask, what’s the evidence for that? (Which I am sure makes me an absolute joy to live with).
In my last post, The quest for the holy metric? I argued that the heart of the shared measurement issue in social development is not an evaluation problem, it’s a translation problem. What we really want to know is how can I translate the social value that I have captured into a language that you understand so that you value the work too?
“The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew every time he sees me, while all the rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them”
There has been a lot of talk in the sector recently around developing common and shared approaches to measurement. Of course I am supportive of this if it enables a better understanding of social change and ultimately improves our work.
Who wants to shout about something that’s gone wrong?
We have a mission at Nominet Trust to understand how the internet can be used as a force to disrupt social challenges and create positive change (when I write this, it does vaguely sound like it should also be the motto of a lesser known slightly geeky comic book hero, whose secret power is wifi.)
A lot of our work is about looking at new models for change. However, by their definition, not every new model is going to impact on a social challenge as deeply as another, and even if a model has worked in one place there’s no guarantee that it’s going to work in another. Scaling and replication is not a simple business.
If you’re looking at social returns on investment (and I mean the social returns, not the financial proxies of social returns) then you get to the point where you start to wonder, what is the social value that is being created by all the amazing work that our partner projects are doing? And, come to think of it, what does everyone mean actually by social value anyway?
After all, those crazy kids in the financial world have been working on ways of articulating (financial) value for several hundred years. So as a sector, there’s no shame in the spending some time developing our understanding of social value.
If you look at any of the partner projects we are working with, there’s no question they create heaps of social value. But how do we account for it? How do we understand it? What means do you use to capture it, express it, aggregate it and (dare I think it), compare it? As a sector, we still seem to be stuck on a financial understanding of social value, mostly famously of course the SROI approach. (While I think the guiding principles behind SROI are useful, it does have limitations.
I had a very interesting chat the other day with a researcher. I won’t say who, and I won’t say where. So essentially this could be part of an elaborate storytelling ploy.
It centred on why we are using logic models and theories of change as the basis of our new evaluation strategy when they’re not perfect tools to understand change. At least not when compared to deep, longitudinal ethnographic research.
As anyone will tell you, whether they are a secret evaluation geek or not (just me with my hand up?) evaluation can be a bit tricky. The fact is human and societal change is complex and messy. But if we want to progress our field, like any field of endeavour, we have to learn from what we have done to move forwards.
During this week's Accelerator session, Mark Fenwick drew on his extensive commercial experience as he demonstrated how to grow your organisation. His presentation of big questions to the whole group was balanced with valuable opportunities for small group discussions, where everyone could focus on what growth meant for them. And specifically what changes they would need to implement to make this happen.
Initially, a group exercise identified that all organisations are different, for example the number of staff doesn’t necessarily relate to turnover, or that being an older organisation doesn’t have to mean that you have more influence. This showed that all organisations have different aspects of their business that they want to grow. Mark emphasised that the key point is to identify exactly what it is that you want to grow, then think about what needs to change to create that growth. He urged everyone to remember that growth is all about change, and that it is impossible to grow by staying the same.