How We Change the World, and how we understand that change

Our Head of Research Al Mathers looks at how we can measure the impact and outcomes of our projects and programmes.

I think a lot about outcomes.

How might we measure them through our projects and programmes? Should we be taking a project by project approach? Or does this fragment their impact? How do we make outcomes meaningful to the people who are affected by them? Does change at a community level start to tackle structural problems of national significance?

To help answer this, last year we began to focus our attention away from the transactional to understanding the value of relationships in creating a lasting legacy and impact. Over the summer, in 2017, we wrote about this as part of the outcomes journey we were taking. Since then we’ve worked to turn this thinking into something really useful. This has resulted in Good Things Foundation’s theory of change – How We Change the World – which builds on what creates willingness to engage, and which we’re launching today.

How We Change the World shows how this change happens, taking peoplecommunities and society on a journey from a lonely place to a collaborative position. At first, thinking about how we talk about our theory of change was tricky, as the ask we put on it was high. The journey needed to be real and grounded, not attached to a specific project but applicable to many, not driven by a funding stream or political agenda but focused on demystifying social impact.

This goes beyond our work at Good Things Foundation. Thinking about how we want to thrive as people, to be happy and connected to others. To be part of a community when the idea of communities seems increasingly elusive. To participate in society because we value it and it values us, so we don’t need to be resilient to survive. To enjoy living and being part a rich networked network that continues to grow and evolve because of these relationships. It’s the long game, and one that no isolated intervention or policy can deliver.

Having been through this process I began to think about things a little differently. Looking around it seemed that, more often that not, this core driver for lasting, positive social change was absent. This is not just a huge missed opportunity, but potentially detrimental in terms of personal wellbeing, community cohesion and societal equality. Fundamentally the issue remains, that many societal initiatives are designed around about creating an output and not the outcome of a population owned attitudinal shift in adopting new behaviours.

The other aspect to bear in mind is that to create this societal shift we need to understand and support the networks of activity that sit below this. How We Change the World does this, and through it we can create lasting impact at three linked levels:

  1. At an individual level for oneself (through self advocacy)
  2. At a community level with others (by participation)
  3. At a societal level on behalf of others (through volunteering, development of socially conscious responses)

Every project or programme we run considers these three levels, and it is through this approach we see change occurring in people’s lives, community practice and societal understanding. To bring this to life here are some examples of what we see changing:

  1. The Future Digital Inclusion programme: an outcomes based approach to digital inclusion and digital skills
    • Individuals: people gain basic digital skills as a result of increased confidence in their learning ability and progression, which then helps them to develop positive learning and employment outcomes.
    • Communities: communities are supported in a sustained way to secure their presence, as a result they can continue to provide holistic support for the most vulnerable.
    • Society: there is a lasting social and economic impact and as such a strong influencing platform for Government policy and a national/international means to raise awareness of the importance of digital inclusion in developing digital skills.
  1. English My Way: an outcomes based approach to ESOL and Community Integration
    • Individuals: people develop basic English language skills which results in improved confidence across many areas of life. People then feel more able to integrate with their community which opens up progression routes to volunteering, further learning and employment.
    • Communities: community organisations grow in capacity as learners who have experienced positive outcomes become volunteers supporting their peers. Communities can be responsive to demand and deliver and receive funding for their support on the basis of need. Working in this more specialised way has given community organisations another platform to be recognised externally for what they do.
    • Society: legacy creation in having developed the only pre entry level ESOL curriculum and challenging traditional, formal ESOL support, by providing another route through community provision.
  1. Prince’s Countryside Fund: an outcomes based approach to developing digital skills for small businesses in rural areas
    • Individuals: people gain transferable and basic digital skills which builds their overall confidence, improves communication and time efficiencies in their professional work, and increases individual health and wellbeing.
    • Communities: disparate rural communities benefit from increased connectivity between both individuals and organisations. There is increased sharing of community assets and together communities/organisations have a stronger collective voice on issues that affect them.
    • Society: there is a successful model for increasing the productivity and profitability of small businesses. This model helps small businesses to attract a wider audience creating sustainability of local enterprises and populations, which can stem (or even reverse) rural-urban migration.

So thinking about outcomes and how you can understand how you change the world is pretty important. It’s easy to be critical of policies and programme approaches which you haven’t personally designed. However, fundamentally we are responsible. If we want to drive and be a part of lasting social change, we should only invest our time in work that creates impact from an outcomes perspective.

Read the report

In this report, Good Things Foundation's theory of change lays out what we’ve learnt about how we - and the centres we’re working with in the Online Centres Network - are having an impact.

A profile photo of Al

Al Mathers

Head of Research, Data and Insight

Al’s role is to lead the Good Things Foundation Research Team to be at the cutting edge of digital social inclusion impact measurement, and make sure everything we do is evidence driven.