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Over the last two years, the Health Foundation has been working towards being more impact-focused. This is complicated work. We operate in a highly complex landscape, and influencing change in the wider system isn’t a linear path. Success is often a long-term goal and beyond our direct control, and not everything we care about can be measured. 

Despite this we could see there were many ways we could improve. In particular we knew we wanted to get better at using our learning from past work to help us innovate and also to know where to focus resources in the future so they’d have the best chance of success.    

With support from NPC, we’ve developed a new impact framework with tools and guidance to help teams better plan for and measure impact. We’ve also refreshed our impact strategy, with a set of ambitions to work towards and principles to guide how these will be achieved.    

Striking the right balance so that we can collect information consistently and provide meaningful feedback loops without adding unnecessary bureaucracy hasn’t always been easy, but we are already seeing real benefits across the organisation. Together with NPC, we’ve been reflecting on the things we’ve learned so far. Here are the highlights: 

1. It’s a balancing act 

Strategy and planning works better when it draws on a solid understanding of what’s gone before, which takes a commitment to learning. But when it comes to practice, there can be concerns that rigid approaches to planning for and measuring impact flatten nuance, impede innovation, and sink time. Getting the right balance between red tape and the freedom to just do the work is really important.  

2. A clear framework helps 

A new strategic plan for the Health Foundation has brought greater coherence to the organisation’s work. Alongside this, a new impact framework developed with the help of NPC has helped to align approaches to impact at different levels of the organisation. The intention is to have a clear ‘golden thread’ from projects through to wider strategy and organisational impact.  

3. We need to measure impact in many different ways 

We all know that measuring impact is hard, especially within a system as complex as health and social care. To address these challenges, we need to embrace a broad range of quantitative and qualitative evidence methods. And we’ve learned to acknowledge important but less tangible impacts, such as organisational culture, that are not easily measurable in the short term, as we work to influence whole systems.   

4. Everyone needs to be supported to own impact work 

When it comes to whose job it is to plan for and measure impact, we’re encouraging shared accountability across the organisation. We’ve learned that providing training, tools and guidance, alongside some dedicated support for colleagues to better plan for and measure impact, are essential. And it’s been really important to see this work modelled by senior colleagues across the organisation.  

5. One person’s bureaucracy is another person’s accountability  

The need to standardise measurement approaches often competes with the need for flexibility and autonomy. The tools and guidance we’ve developed with NPC have helped to introduce a degree of common practice, with shared language and consistent templates, where possible. But colleagues can still tailor approaches, so that they’re suitable for different types of work. And the levels of time and energy colleagues invest in​ measuring​ impact needs to be proportionate to the project and the benefits that learning can bring to future work. This also requires an adaptable approach. 

6. Deliberate spaces are needed to ensure learning enables innovation 

Improving how we share knowledge and learning about our work has been essential and has a big role in enabling innovation to happen. We’ve realised that this sense-making needs to happen at many different levels, and we’ve begun to create new formal and informal spaces designed to make connections to catalyse ideas and to connect learning with decision-making and action (such as programme boards for our new strategic priorities).   

7. Impact needs to be a core part of the work  

It’s increasingly acknowledged that to change systems, measurement and learning need to be seen as a core part of the work itself, not an additional assessment at the end. We’re aiming for these approaches to accountability and learning to be core to our strategy, business planning, and operations.   

Find out more 

We’re always learning and always keen to hear what other organisations are doing in this space. To discuss this work​,​ please get in touch: chloe.sheppard@health.org.uk. You can also read more about the work in this other joint blog by NPC and Health Foundation colleagues

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