Thoughts and reflections from the Impact Accelerator
Just over two years ago, the Centre for Youth Impact began delivering the Impact Accelerator programme, as part of our wider work within the #iwill Fund Learning Hub. The programme was initially developed by Generation Change, and transferred to the Centre to pave the way for a more joined up and meaningful approach to learning and improvement in the youth sector. We’ve been on quite a journey with the programme since then - through two full cohorts of participating youth organisations and the Covid-19 pandemic - and as we wrap up our work with the third and final cohort, we thought it would be timely to share a few thoughts and reflections.
Each organisation looks different, but there are common threads in the experience of ongoing improvement work
It’s been fantastic to see the different ways in which project leads in participating organisations have embraced the programme and thought creatively about how to take learning back to their wider teams. One organisation got their youth ambassadors involved in the initial training and Confidence Framework self-assessment, taking time to run through key concepts beforehand using examples from their own work to ensure that new evaluation terms and frameworks were accessible and relatable for the young people involved. Others have taken the Confidence Framework back to different programme teams and replicated the self-assessment process across their organisation’s different activities, or delegated different sections (“Design”, “Deliver”, “Learn”, “Outcomes”, “Sustain”) to various teams, based on their experiences, interests, and expertise. After a workshop, one organisation even created a physical theory of change wall in their office, to bring more team members into the development work and thinking!
The Impact Accelerator and self-assessment process can often open the door to much bigger strategic questions and reflection - it can prompt organisational change. With that in mind, there are a number of factors that help to make it successful: ensuring there is support and engagement from senior leadership, finding ways to protect time for reflection and improvement, and ensuring that the work is spread out so that it’s as consultative and participatory as possible - and doesn’t rest on one person’s shoulders (which is both personally challenging and unsustainable!)
There will always be churn and disruption to learning and improvement efforts
The pandemic heightened the disruption faced by youth organisations participating in the Impact Accelerator; difficult periods of furlough and staff redundancies, a need to radically and quickly shift delivery of activities for young people, and ongoing financial, strategic, and broader uncertainty. However, organisational change has been a challenge for improvement efforts since well before Covid-19, and support to mitigate the impact has become a core part of the Centre’s offer to organisations. Seemingly small considerations, such as keeping and sharing detailed notes of key programme touchpoints, recording key workshops, and having enough time to build in flex for deadlines and milestones, can help to navigate these challenges and maintain some momentum
and consistency for ongoing improvement efforts. It doesn’t always work though, and sometimes other organisational issues will take priority. There is more we can do as a sector to tackle this, which will be reflected in our key recommendations as part of the final programme reports.
The Confidence Framework is a valuable tool for reflecting on key questions related to programme design, delivery, and evaluation
This is something that we have heard consistently from programme participants. We’ve refined the tool based on feedback and are aware that there’ll always be things that we can do to improve its accessibility and the experience of those using the framework for self-assessments. This is particularly true in light of new technologies and as the language and concepts we use to facilitate learning and evaluation efforts evolves (and this is not always consistent within the sector). It can take time to get to grips with some of the concepts related to programme design, delivery and evaluation, if you’ve not got your head in it every day (or sometimes even if you do!) It’s essential that we continue to think about the most helpful way to support organisations with this work - whilst keeping a sharp focus on the questions that really matter.