OPINION: Measurements miss the mark

DEBRA ALLCOCK TYLER, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

Youth At Risk works with young, socially-disenfranchised people.

In keeping with the current demand to measure everything in the way of efficiency and performance, it tracks things like the number of people it works with who re-offend.

Yet when you talk to Neil Wragg, the chief executive, it soon becomes clear how difficult it is to measure the true value of an organisation such as Youth At Risk. Its programmes involve a much wider community than the people for whom funding is directly acquired. In fact, the organisation's work helps to build community in an unexpected and quite profound way.

And the pressures on voluntary and community organisations to provide "measures

are huge. Increasingly, funding depends on being able to show exactly what you have done with the money, even where the funds are "unrestricted".

And if what you did is different to what you said you would do, you are in danger of not getting the funding next time, even if it was still of value.

Have we become so obsessed with the need to measure things that we have forgotten what the voluntary and community sector is about in the first place? One of the dangers is that the act of measuring changes the activity in which you are engaged. Instead of fitting the measurement to the activity, as we should do, we often end up concentrating on the things we are measured on.

And who is the measurement for, anyway? Is it for the funders who are primarily interested in the direct use of their funds? Is it for the client group or cause, in which case the interest is more about who has been helped? Is it for the organisation itself, to determine if it is achieving its aims? Although these stakeholders are not mutually exclusive, it is true that the ones holding the purse strings often dictate the type of measurement used.

I wonder also if we have forgotten the distinction between simply reporting the activities in which we have engaged and trying to prove that they are worthwhile. Would anyone argue that creating opportunities for excluded young people is not a valuable thing to do, even if the impact is not immediately obvious?

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