On the 1st of December 2016, Aleron and Sinzer co-hosted an event bringing together over 50 leaders from charities, foundations, investors, and peak bodies to discuss network impact. At the event a range of experts from frontline practice, investment, and research backgrounds shared their first-hand experience, practical lessons, and reflections on the future of impact in networks.

Four key themes emerged through the session:

Theme One: Network impact is a post-organisation mindset

Bethia McNeil, Director for the Centre for Youth Impact, argued that the sector’s current approach to doing impact is often individualistic, expensive and protectionist. Network impact offers the chance to go beyond the perspective of individual organisations to a post-organisation approach. This new mindset is both philosophical and practical.

Paul Perkins, CEO of The Winch and the North Camden Zone, echoed this in describing the North Camden Zone collective impact pilot as an example of what can happen when an organisation applies its mission beyond the borders of its own activities. Like many charities, The Winch currently collects and reports on impact data as much for marketing purposes, as for driving decisions about outcomes. Their collective impact pilot seeks to change this by making data fundamental to driving accountability for outcomes.

Theme Two: A collaborative and progressive approach is central to creating lasting change

Reflecting on her experience at Citizens Advice where she was Head of Impact and Evaluation, Tamsin Shuker insisted on the importance to recognise the different types of style and maturity in adopting network impact approaches. She used to distinguish between sprinters, joggers, walkers, and plodders and tailor her engagement with each group. The ‘sprinters’ might run off and develop their own impact approach if an organisation doesn’t keep pace, while the ‘plodders’ might need intensive support to keep them on board. However, she was clear on the necessity to have a single message and single language to ensure clarity of purpose and action.

Hugh Taylor from Aleron and Emma Verheijke from Sinzer reflected on the importance of building consensus in their work with the AgeUK network in Kent to implement a new online impact management platform. Those ‘outside the tent’ can be brought on board voluntarily by showing tangible results such as specific software tools and the encouragement from leader organisations in the network.

Theme Three: Funders need to support but not drive

As Senior Head of Evaluation at the Big Lottery Fund, Tamsin Shuker, raised some open questions about the role of the funder in promoting network impact. Funders shouldn’t always take on the role of dictating shared measurement approaches. It is important to also recognise the existing expertise of charities in devising their own impact measurement approaches.

Marcus Hulme, Social Impact Director at Big Society Capital, noted that there are various roles for funders in encouraging shared impact approaches, from pooling together resources to tackle an issue, to mandating shared measurement approaches. One method that hasn’t worked in the past is a “build it and they will come” approach to creating new shared platforms. Marcus is more in favour of ongoing support and a better sharing of data within and across networks.

Theme Four: There is no single right approach to creating network impact

A common message from all contributors was that there is a range of different approaches to creating impact within networks and as a result there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Organisations form networks with a variety of different objectives, from sharing the efficiencies of a common tool (for example, Age UK or Citizens Advice) to solving a complex problem collectively (for example, North London Zone). These types of networks have different goals and therefore different factors for success.

Click here to download our Briefing Paper for the event.