As the lead on evidence and impact work in NCB, I spend my days (and evenings) supporting organisations to measure and understand the difference they make to people’s lives and focus on outcomes rather than outputs.
It’s that word ‘Outcomes’ combined with two others… ‘Based Accountability’ that has dominated my life for the last few years and, ‘yes’, I do sometimes hear the words ‘be careful what you wish for’ ringing in my ears!
Looking back over the last few years, I’m reminded of just how far the use of Outcomes Based Accountability (OBA) has spread from our early work in 2012/13 in the Colin Early Intervention Community and the Executive’s Child Poverty Outcomes Framework to the present day where it is now referenced by the NI Executive in its new draft Programme for Government. Others have joined us in this journey of influence including Carnegie, NICVA, Building Change Trust, Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership and CO3 as we all work towards a better society in Northern Ireland.
Whilst we could now sit back and think ‘job done’, how much more influential could we be than contributing to an entire shift in Government thinking? I instead feel exactly the opposite as we now face the huge challenge of supporting full implementation.
OBA requires discipline to succeed – the discipline of a common language - the discipline of collaborative planning (Turning the Curve) - the discipline of transparent reporting for accountability (OBA guidance). Whilst I support many organisations and people who ‘get it’, I still come across those who are struggling with the application. I hear OBA referred to as ‘a monitoring system’, ‘a list of performance measures’, ‘a report card’, ‘a turning the curve workshop’ all of which are correct but none of which in isolation stand any chance of creating the real change we need for our citizens.
Having worked for 20 years in research and evaluation, OBA has really helped me and the organisations I’ve worked with to put a logical structure around all the fantastic tools and resources that already exist for organisations to get data on that all important ‘is anyone better off’ question.
Campaigns such as Inspiring Impact have led the way in effective impact practice and as budgets get tighter we all have to make tough decisions. OBA allows us to make those decisions and as I sat yesterday in a room full of practitioners and commissioners of mental health and learning disability services and witnessed them using evidence to make tough decisions, I was again convinced of its merits.
My message to all those using OBA – be brave, be disciplined and if possible attend our next workshop.