Social Impact and Added Value – Garry Smith

My stepdaughter manages a women’s refuge, she is currently taking a course as part of her cpd and already has a degree in counselling. It was our family Christmas party last weekend and she told me she had to write a short essay on social impact and added value on the service they provide. In a former life I was a research officer for a college of further education here in the UK, I was the first person employed to examine and evaluate the work of the college, principally the social impact and the added value.

Armed with my honours degree in sociology I set about my task assiduously, I was driven to produce the research and within a fewyears had amassed a huge vault of statistics and reports full of qualitative and quantitative evidence of the massive social impact studying at the college, part time and full time, had for the individual students, their families and community organisations and employment. My methodologies and tools included in the reports so that it could be seen that the research was sound and not biased, I liaised with external organisations, national bodies and some universities and the added to the evidence base too.

 Added value wasmeasured in terms of progression onto further and higher education programmes, career progression and my research made for impressive reading, so I was told. It was used when the college was inspected by the Further Education Funding Council and played its part in helping the college to be graded as an outstanding institution, at the time the third highest rated college in the country. I loved the job, it  was very rewarding, especially as this college is where I found a route into education that profoundly changed my life, I was a truebeliever. That is why it was extremely important that my methodological approach was documented and openly available for scrutiny.

It all sounds very rosy does it not? The college shone like a beacon in a misty sea, we were a very expensive institution to run, we were not a conventional college but the results as evidenced by my, and a few others research showed that we had an excellent, enviable social impact and added tremendous amounts of value beyond the individuals who studied with us. The thing is my research allowed me to dig and to burrow into how we worked, how we functioned and I began to find problems and weaknesses in lots of places.

For clarification I was the research officer for the principals unit and worked very closely with the principal and vice principal, both of whom had introduced me to sociology and research studies in the first place. It was a privileged position to be in and well rewarded financially and in status. As the problems, inefficiencies and weaknesses were identified then ways of tackling them were applied, it was not easy as there were political and cultural practices, individuals and departments working to their own agendas, people in positions they were not suited to, all sorts of complicating factors.

The great challenge was managing change. It was not easy, it took massive amounts of time and energy, physical and emotional, but we got there eventually as evidenced by the glowing FEFC inspection report. The nuts and bolts of how we did this would bore you and are unimportant. The point is that in the task of researching the social impact and added value of our service, education, there were 2 outcomes.

1, the happy one we showed to the world, the qualitative and quantitative evidence of social impact and added value.

2, the unhappy one we kept locked in the attic, the problems, inefficiencies and weaknesses that the research exposed.

Make no mistake that if you attempt to measure the social impact of any service that you provide you will almost certainly discover both yourself. Is this a reason to steer well clear of the task, my response is a firm no. Any attempt must be seriously undertaken and academically rigorous. As martial artists and or self defence training providers, writers we ought to try and learn what the social impact of our training offer is.

Is there any should be the 1st question and what is it the 2nd. Do we add value to the lives of our students?

We can go on listing questions but need to maintain focus.

What must be avoided is to seek to produce ‘evidence’ that our service is the best, outstanding whilst covering up and problems, inefficiencies and weaknesses we find, that is the research of the sick.

Unfortunately in a world where many organisations are funding dependent in an age of austerity, a way of describing what some of us call responsibility, the temptation to see only what we would like to see, or what our superiors want to see is far too tempting and power, like money, talks.

Understanding whether and how our service has a social impact and adds value, is in my opinion, an important task. The search to assess just what it is should, if conducted properly, show the evidence as it actually is and help to improve the service provided so staff who are asked to conduct the research must be properly trained and empowered or expert outside help should be employed.

 If you think yourservice is outstanding, or you want it to be so, then the research is well worth it, but beware, the will most likely be pleasure but it will most likely be accompanied by a little pain.

If you are interested in attempting this please feel free to contact me as I have a service you might just be interested in and the 1st 10 customers get a massive 50% discount.

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