Importance and complexity of evidence on impact

An interesting article on the Nesta blog by Patrick Taylor this week got me thinking about measuring the impact of service design projects. This is a subject that keeps coming up in our field, but that has not been tackled yet. Maybe we can learn from lateral fields such as social innovation. It seems that a lot of good work is being done there in this respect.

In the article Patrick reflects on his involvement in developing and applying an intelligent approach to evidence gathering on the impact of funded social innovation projects. He described how they set up a 6 steps process, and how he applied it on a series of projects. He then reflects on his key learnings from this process. For me the 5th and last one stood out. Here Patrick explains that the identification of evidence needs to be done from 4 different perspectives: the delivery organisations, the funders, the researchers, and the policy makers. He states that while many people may have the experience and background to do the evaluation from more than one of these perspectives, hardly anyone can be realistically expected to cover all four of them. As he states that “there are no geniuses in the world of impact”. He makes a plea for humility and interdisciplinary empathy, while applying and further developing joint standards.

Patrick’s considered arguments match very well with the similar situation we often find ourselves in in the service design field. Also there a strong need is often expressed for more evidence-based reflections on the impact of our work, and likewise it would be impossible for one person or party to cover this from the perspectives of all the key stakeholders involved. A peer review based way of doing validations, combined with a mutually agreed set of guidelines, or standards as Nesta calls it, would be beneficial.

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