Monday, 26 January 2015

Perfect storm?

I attended a briefing by the leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge, last week on Surrey’s “Spending Power” for 2015 and beyond. It makes grim reading. Everybody I speak to seems to be in agreement that whatever flavour of political party or coalition is in Whitehall after the election there will be significant further cuts to local government budgets. Leaders in Surrey CC have further tough decisions to make on where the axe falls. Not a fun task methinks. So far, Surrey has maintained a much larger spend on youth provision than many other counties, but can it last?

Meanwhile I am increasingly hearing from my voluntary and charity sector colleagues that they are receiving increasingly complex referrals (i.e. clients with a wider range of problems in layman’s terms).

A third bit of news this week is some research reported by the BBC that suggests “Behaviour of boys from poor homes is worse when they grow up with wealthier neighbours”. I am not surprised to hear this, common sense says to me that if you are a teenager sitting in a class full of people with iphones going on skiing holidays it must be harder than sitting in a class full of other people with little money. So, Surrey's young people from poor backgrounds need our support. 

A perfect storm of problems? Maybe not, but certainly a pretty bad combination. I believe that a very strategic response is required with a range of players coming together to try to maintain and improve support for the most vulnerable in our society in the face of cuts. I will be working towards this over the coming months. But it won't be easy. Suggestions on a postcard please…

Monday, 19 January 2015

Impact is the new black

Outcomes are so last year. Impact is the new way of showing that your organisation or service is making a difference, so I learnt at a meeting of Local Authority representatives and Youth Infrastructure Chief Executives held at the Cabinet Office last week. Why? Because measuring outcomes alone doesn't tell about your impact.

Impact is the difference between a world with your organisation or service in it and one without it. To take a definition from the Big Lottery, impact is:

“Any effects arising from an intervention. This includes immediate short-term outcomes as well as broader and longer–term effects. These can be positive or negative, planned or unforeseen.”

WHY do we want to measure impact? Because it is evidence. Why do we want evidence? To support an assertion. What should we be using it for? To build confidence over time. What is evidence….experience, pictures, words, statistics. 

Here are a few key points that I took away from the discussion:
  • ·         You need to think about how you want to use the data. Have a think about other ways that you could use the data, to influence new potential funders that you haven’t influenced in the past e.g. lottery, businesses.
  • ·         To measure your impact, it is recommended that you consider bringing a group of key stakeholders together to reflect on the questions. It gives you a major opportunity for dialogue.
  • ·         Measuring impact is only really going to work when you have people all across the organisation bought in – including the CEO and the youth worker at the coal face. Often, youth workers are supremely unconvinced by measurement initiatives, yet can be the most evangelical if won over to the cause.
  • ·         When a young person’s life is changed, it will often be down to several organisations, perhaps a school and a youth group, rather than just one. We therefore need to talk about contribution rather than attribution - collective impact and collective responsibility.

And if you want to start on this work, here is a list of questions to get your brain going…What is need? What is demand? Who is asking? What are your big aims? What are you trying to improve? What are you trying to reduce? What assumptions do you have about ways that you work? Do young people stick with you? What do they particularly stay about for?  If you are looking to change, where is the line between adapting and wholesale metamorphosis to being a new organisation? When are you no longer you? 

For more information go to:

Monday, 12 January 2015

Anger and solutions

The sad events in France over the last week remind us of how complex some problems are and how they cannot be solved by one organisation. We (globally) need to try to understand why some people feel so angry and disenfranchised that they make life choices which are unimaginable to the rest of us. I deliberately haven’t used the word Islam because religion here has been misappropriated by people wanting to use it as an excuse to vent their issues with society, just as many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion related to the Northern Ireland conflict. These types of issues can only be solved when many parties get together to solve them. Governments cannot do them alone.

Similarly, it is important in Surrey that we work to encourage our most disenfranchised young people back into mainstream society. Surrey County Council and the local boroughs cannot and should not be expected to deal with them alone.

There are complex problems facing us in Surrey which can benefit from multiple organisations working together to solve. Going forward I very much see part of Surrey Youth Focus’s role as being too help people identify problems being experienced by our member organisations’ young people which are not getting solved. Our intention is to bring together a new set of players to help to solve them. The strong focus many corporates have on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) these days provides us with a new opportunity to help get long-standing problems solved.

For example, take the issue of getting young people with learning difficulties into meaningful occupation. These young people often have a tolerance for repetition that others do not have, which could be valuable to employers. I would like, at some point, to get together a group of HR managers from employers together with disability organisations to work together on an employment initiative to provide new types of roles suitable for people with learning difficulties. (If this has been done before… do let me know how it went…)

Do you have any problems facing young people in Surrey that you have been trying to solve for some time that could benefit from working with other organisations? Would you like help moving things forward? If so please do drop us a line, we would love to hear from you. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

All Change?

Listening to the radio this morning about the drive to get parents to give their children less sugar, I reflected on a change in our habits that has helped on one level, but has potentially caused other problems. (Click here for more information on the campaign).

Until recently, I was a full-time mum and used to frequently shop at supermarkets, often with one or both kids in tow. This meant that I was often subject to the typical requests for the sweeter cereals, for biscuits, etc. Now we are doing most of our shopping online, I am no longer subject to so many requests and it is easier to purchase more wisely without pester power. 

On the downside, however, the kids have less opportunities to learn about the shopping process and food ingredients now that they don’t observe it happening. True, they still sometimes see me cook, but it will take longer for the younger one to learn all the names of, for example,  fruits and vegetables. As so often with technology, the challenge will be going forward to make the most of technology whilst overcoming any downsides. Often, however, the downsides are not easy to spot.

With respect to reducing sugar consumption, I believe that it cannot be done by the strength of character of parents alone. I believe that a widespread change in society is needed, including regulation of food manufacturing and sale. If I could wave a magic wand over legislation, my first action would be to disallow sweets and sugary treats at low levels by checkouts. That would be one less pester inducing situation for a parent to negotiate.

It is tradition to say “happy new year”, but this sometimes feels to general for me, so instead I will say that I hope that you have the new year that you want, whether that be happy, peaceful, spiritual, loving, relaxing, carefree, reflective, calming, fun, exciting, connecting, healing, comforting, joyful or maybe something else….