“We don’t measure impact as it’s too difficult” – Brighton & Hove Council

I have just received an email which has astonished me so much that I want to share it. It concerns the rhetoric of measuring impact, and why just not bothering is good enough for the local authority Economic Development Team.

Context: the Green administration in Brighton & Hove has made it’s budget setting process more open than in previous years, starting 2 months earlier. This is a welcome move, and the budget document is here, if you fancy reading 232 pages of it, or 118 depending on which of the two page numbering schemes you follow.

We are currently in the middle of Scrutiny, a voluntary sector representative elected via the Community & Voluntary Sector Forum reps system attended and asked some very sensible questions. She didn’t appear to get any real information in the answers, but one response was just mind boggling:

QUESTION: [On the work of the Economic Development Team] – How do you measure the impact of your teams work on improving the local economy?

ANSWER (Officer): We don’t measure the impact as it is too difficult. It is too hard to know if your work has had the effect, also if there is a bad outcome, we wouldn’t want the blame. We do collect feedback from local business community, we do satisfaction surveys. Impact is just too difficult to look at. 

While I fully understand that economic development probably IS very difficult to measure, the same can, and is, said about measuring impact in any other field.  Early years preventative services, for example, or supporting older people to stay in their homes, or community development. There are usually many other factors going on, some outcomes need to be measured over a very long period of time to be truly accurate, and of course, in small organisations, working on measuring impact can be difficult if it takes your focus away from your front line services.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! And it doesn’t mean that there should be one rule for the internal Economic Development Team and quite another for voluntary sector or small businesses providing services on behalf of the Council.

In an authority that is not only attempting to shift toward Intelligent Commissioning, that is investing in training some (around 25) of its commissioners ,who are trying to move contracts and commissions onto an Outcome Measures footing, and who have been loudly talking about needing transformative change, this is not only shocking, but depressing.

Either this really is just rhetoric and what is sauce for the goose is unpalatable to the gander, or officers further down the food chain from the, publicly, very committed Chief Executive John Barradell don’t get it and aren’t being helped to get it.

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