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Git-proofing your impact - Kirsty writes about being vaguely right, and just doing it.

28.10.16

From time to time I teach “Measuring your Impact” courses. They are very practical courses, focusing on “just do something” rather than being a counsel of perfection. I think a lot of us get paralysed by the idea of impact measurement. It just seems too big and too hard, so we put it in the special “for when I have time, energy and inspiration” drawer, and there it stays.

The economist John Maynard Keynes said that “it is better to be vaguely right, than precisely wrong”. Mr Keynes is apparently ‘eminent’, so that’s good enough for me. (Not good enough, unfortunately, for my school maths teacher who seemed strangely obsessed with details like getting things right. If only I had been introduced to the eminent Mr Keynes and his handy maxims during my Swanmore Secondary days). Anyway, the message to take from that ramble is … just do something.

One of the exercises on the course encourages people to think about their ultimate aim – not the subsidiary aims and the means to achieve them – but the real nub of the matter. In what way are you really trying to make life better?

I recently taught a course where the participants did precisely what I’d asked, and refined and refined their ultimate aim until they ended up with “making people happier”. Now I personally believe that happiness is a fantastic objective and that it has huge social value, but I am not a potential funder. If I was a potential funder and the exact same project was presented to me in two ways, I think I know which one I would fund.

1. We’re going to provide elderly people with hot lunches and companionship so that they stay healthy and emotionally resilient and continue to live in their own homes.
2. We’re going to provide elderly people with hot lunches and companionship so that they are happier.

In version 1, I can see that there is likely to be a clear beneficial impact on wellbeing and the public purse, while version 2 is a tad fluffy. So I said to the participants that they should write their impact statements imagining that Duncan Bannatyne was a potential funder.

“Do you really expect me to spend my childrens’ inheritance on making a bunch of old people feel a wee bit happier? I’m out”! (insert own Scottish accent and snidey voice). If you’re not familiar with Duncan Bannatyne, any curmudgeonly git will do.

And lo, the concept of “git proofing" was born! I’m expecting my OBE for ‘Services to Impact’ any day now.

So when you think about your impact and how you will communicate the brilliance of your work, think of Duncan Bannatyne. Would he spend his children’s inheritance on your project?