Impact - What difference are you making to the world around you?

Posted: 
9 January 2014

Phil Sital-Singh, Impact Research Project Manager at RNIB, asks us to consider our reason for existence, and calls upon us to focus on impact when planning our activities.

I figure that working to promote impact measurement is a lot like working to promote physical fitness: everyone agrees they should do it but no one really wants to.

I have been specialising in a sphere of research and evaluation known as impact. Widely recognised yet often wildly misunderstood, it is most simply explained by asking the question "what difference are you making to the world around you?"

Aside from being a question that some of the most inspiring figures in world history have directly or indirectly asked each of us to consider, it has become a more significant and urgent question for the charitable and voluntary sectors.

One of the consequences of the financial events of the last five years has been a tightening of belts across areas of spending crucial to charities, especially voluntary giving and government funding. Not only has this led to reduced funding available, it has stepped up competition for the remaining sources - and almost literally in some cases I'm told - exponentially. The sharp end of this for charitable and voluntary organisations is a pressing answer to the question "what difference are you making?"

Although perhaps the historical reasoning, it would be a shame to root the importance of this question in external pressures on the sector. Making a difference, whether to an individual in need of a bit more support or a society in need of a bit more fairness, is what the sector is about. It's our raison d'être. The pressure to demonstrate our impact should be coming from within.

In 2009 I began a research project to demonstrate the impact that a social enterprise has by giving a blind and partially sighted person an employment opportunity that she may not have had for a long time. Four years later, the impact research project feeds into almost all RNIB activity, from direct services to campaign activity, from fundraising to strategy development, and from internal performance to external communications.

It often feels like telling people to eat their vegetables - but it has been fruitful. Today we offer a new report "Measuring impact and outcomes: Lessons from RNIB" as a useful summary of RNIB's approach to impact measurement. It is not all our own work, but brings together the tools and ideas we have taken from the field of impact measurement and attempted to apply to ourselves. We hope you find it - as well as the many external resources it signposts to - useful and stimulating.

RNIB aims to make every day better for everyone affected by sight loss. In order to do that we have no choice but to ask ourselves, "what difference are we making to the world around us?"

For further information contact research@rnib.org.uk.