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Why a logic model approach can help you conduct an assessment of the impact of community involvement (20 Oct 18)

Here’s an ingenious but wonderfully simple way to help you with your Impact Assessments

Many organisations now conduct “impact assessment” of their work in the community.  

In a housing context this means measuring both the extent to which residents are able to influence their landlord's activities and services and what the effects are of this influence. 

The basic assumption underlying this assessment is that community involvement is a good thing and that it can help lead to an organisation which is better at meeting residents' needs and which provides better services.

But does community involvement on its own lead directly to better things for residents, without other factors being involved?  Or is reality a little more complicated than that?  And if reality is a little more complicated, how can we “map” that reality so we can know what else we need to pay attention to?  

The concept of a “logic model” can be very useful here.  A logic model is a very popular tool, used by project managers and evaluators, which is a visual diagram of how a project’s four components of inputs, activities, outputs, and desired outcomes relate to each other.  Each of these four components is useful to map, but for our purposes, let’s focus on the desired outcomes.

In the simplest possible view of the world, we might say that if we achieve the desired outcome of resident involvement, then we will achieve the higher-level desired outcome of a better housing service.

For this example let’s use the desired outcome of “housing services are responsive to tenant wishes”.  We can draw this simple logical connection like this:

Put in logic model terminology, this diagram claims that “IF tenants participate, THEN housing services are responsive to tenant wishes”.  True, this captures a basic assumption, but do we believe this captures the complexity of how housing services are provided?  Probably not, since we know that many other factors also need to be operating.

What, then, might be a better description of what happens in a housing association?  Let’s consider the slightly more-complex logical connections shown below:

This diagram portrays reality much better, doesn’t it?  First, the left side tells us that tenants don’t participate unless they are both motivated to express their wishes and they have a process to do so (the classic “will and a way”).  That is, the left side tell us that “IF tenants are motivated to express their wishes and IF tenants have a process to express their wishes, THEN tenants participate.”  This feels more like how things really work, doesn’t it?

Second, the two right-hand boxes remind us that tenant participation by itself isn’t sufficient to create services which tenants are going to be satisfied with. Staff also plays an important part. In particular, the right-side boxes tell us that staff need to be motivated to listen to tenants and they must be able to respond to what tenants want.

These desired outcomes aren’t explicitly included in our basic assumption, but they are certainly important, no?

Third, the top four boxes tell us that “IF tenants participate, and IF staff are motivated to listen carefully to tenant wishes and IF staff are able to respond to tenant wishes, THEN housing services are responsive to tenant wishes.” 

Note how different this is from our first, simplistic logical statement?  Obviously we are now viewing the world is a more realistic way, thanks to logic model thinking.  And with your own experiences, perhaps you can refine this logic even more?

How, then, can this way of thinking help us in a practical sense? In at least two ways. 

First, by displaying all six of these important desired outcomes, not just two, a housing association can design and manage its services accordingly.  That is, we can work just as hard with both halves of the equation -- staff as well as tenants.  We can design our tenant participation iniatives to take into account all the important factors, not just some of them.

Second, we can (and should) measure our performance on all six outcomes, so if housing services aren’t being as responsive as we’d like, we can trace the reasons why not.  That is, if our highest-level desired outcome (“Housing services are responsive to tenant wishes”) is falling short of what we’d like, we can look to see where the problem lies.

Is the problem on the tenant side of the logic model, maybe because tenants aren’t motivated to express their wishes or don’t have a process to do so?  Is the problem on the staff side, maybe because they aren’t motivated to listen or can’t act on tenant wishes even if they want to?  Are there problems on both sides?

Without knowing exactly where the problems lie, how can we possibly expect to correct them?  This short example shows the important difference between an impact assessment that simply measures how well we’re doing and an impact assessment that not only measures how well we’re doing but also shows us how to improve our impact. 

Which type of impact assessment do you want to spend your time, effort, and money to do? If the latter, then you might want to start thinking about tenant participation in logic model terms.

If you want to learn more about this topic why not run an in house course?  An introduction to measuring social impact and social value covers everything you need to know and can be adapted to cover any community based topic. The price is fixed no matter how many attend. Email me at rod@rodlaird.co.uk or phone 01494 772 458.

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