Interview: Dan Corry

The new chief executive of New Philanthropy Capital tells Sophie Hudson he plans to tackle public policy and be every bit as outspoken as his predecessor

Dan Corry
Dan Corry

During his time as chief executive of New Philanthropy Capital, Martin Brookes, Dan Corry’s predecessor, was well known for sparking debate. And things are not about to become quieter under Corry’s leadership. He says he has, "a homing device" for the areas of controversy and interest.

"I’m not here to have a quiet time," he says. "NPC will be edgy, we will be saying things other people are afraid to say, because we’re not beholden to anybody; but I want to say it in ways that bring everyone along with us."

He’s quite happy to speak out on public policy, for example. Corry says that, given his experience as head of the policy unit at 10 Downing Street and as senior policy adviser on the economy to the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, from 2007 to 2010, this is the type of work he hopes will grow at NPC during his time at the helm.

"I’m very interested in the issue of what kind of commissioning approaches from central and local government are most effective in helping charities actually invest in innovation and so on and which ones don’t work," he says.

One commissioning approach by the government that he is unsure about is payment by results in the Work Programme. Corry says that a lot of charities are unhappy with the way it has worked out, but thinks the government did not intend it to have the consequences it has. This has been confirmed by Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, who said at a recent event that the programme was not "going the way we expected".

Corry says that one of the problems with the Work Programme’s approach is that it can lead to prime contractors – often highly profitable private sector companies – pushing all of the risk on to subcontractors, which are often not-for-profit organisations.   

"If you’re a charity and you’re only going to be paid once you’ve achieved the results, how do you survive in the meantime?" he says. "I don’t think the government intended it to work out this way, but we all need to think through why it has worked out the way it has. How can we make the Work Programme better for charities, but also how can we stop that kind of model emerging in other sectors?"

The payment-by-results approach can, however, have benefits as well, says Corry. "The funder’s point of view, the government’s point of view, is that by moving to payment by results you get more innovation," he says. "They don’t care how you hit the result – they’re more interested in the result itself – and they feel it gives the right incentive."

NPC is perhaps best known for championing the measurement of results. And while Corry says this will still be at the heart of its work, he says impact measurement is moving into a new phase.

"I think what NPC had to do in its early days was to make a very big noise about impact and outcomes because that wasn’t in the DNA of the sector," he says. "And maybe I’m being a bit premature, but I think phase one has been won."

He says that most people have now come on board in principle and understand that measuring impact is something they ought always to have been doing. "The question now becomes, to some degree: can we find some common metrics?" he says. " I don’t think we’re there at all."

Part of the new phase will be for NPC and other organisations to work together to come to an agreement on the best way to measure outcomes.

Corry says this is partly so that charities can measure their work on a comparative basis, and partly so that they are not put under unnecessary pressure by funders.

"If you’ve got three different funders and they’re all asking you to measure your outcomes in a different way, that’s a right old pain, to put it mildly, so we’d like to see some agreement there," he says.

Corry says the collaborative work towards this goal includes an impact summit that was recently organised by 12 interested bodies, including the innovation charity Nesta, the chief executives’ body Acevo and NPC. The recommendations will be out in early December. 

"People always worry about this measurement stuff, and rightly so," he says. "There’s always that danger that you end up focusing on things that are easy to measure. And you miss out on the things that really matter, which are harder to put your finger on.

"But the fact that you can’t measure everything doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t measure what you can measure."

He also concedes that measuring impact can be risky: "It can be frightening. When you do it, you might find that you’re not having the impact you hoped you were having. But I hope rather than thinking ‘oh gosh, I wish we’d never done the evaluation’, you’d think ‘thank god we found that out’.’"

CV:

2007: Adviser to the Prime Minister and head of No 10 policy unit

2005: Special adviser at Department for Education and HM Treasury

2002: Director of think tank New Local Government Network

1997: Special adviser in several government departments

1989: Head of economic secretariat at the Labour Party

1984: Civil servant at Department of Employment and HM Treasury

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