I bet you love coming up with new ideas….new ways of solving problems. In organisations with a social purpose there are lots of people impatient to do things better, to increase the impact they have. There are lots of people impatient to try out their ideas, to get them used with real people so they start to make a difference. Often we’re so sure that our idea is a good one that we are convinced it will work even before we’ve actually tried it out; before we have any evidence.
Even if we carefully design a way to test a new intervention or service – with clear measures and sample sizes; an agreed scope and milestones; it is still easy to get carried away and seize on the first signs of success; to start celebrating the discovery of a great new solution.
Bromford has often been as guilty as anyone of hatching a new service idea over a whiteboard and a few coffees and then rushing it out into a pilot….that becomes a pathfinder…that becomes everyday practice……and all without ever really working out how we will know if it’s worked….or whether it has. Our enthusiasm for helping people to build on their skills and use their talents to unlock potential just gets the better of us.
Now we have built a more robust methodology for taking new ideas through to an evaluation against the original problem they were designed to solve. They won’t all work but we’ll be able to decide whether we should be putting them on the shelf, adjusting and testing them again or rolling them out to more customers.
We’re currently piloting a number of new service offers using this approach. We’re keeping a close eye on how these pilots are going. We’re seeing promising signs; we’re hearing great stories from colleagues and customers. It is tempting to draw conclusions now; to convince ourselves that the tests have worked….that it’s time to start scaling things up.
But the evidence is still only tentative…anecdotal…so we need to hold firm and stick to the theory of change we’ve mapped out, or we risk becoming empty chearleaders for an unproven idea.
The theory of Emotivism helps make the point.
The emotivists were a group of early 20th century philosophers who believed that ethical statements were incapable of empirical verification – being proved true or false – and were therefore meaningless. To say that being honest is morally good is to do no more than to express one’s approval for being honest…..to proclaim “Hurrah for honesty!” if you will. To say that stealing is bad is to do no more than to proclaim “Boo for stealing!”
If we let ourselves get carried away by a few promising stories here or a positive movement in a PI there, we risk never actually gathering the evidence needed to properly evaluate our pilots one way or the other.
We’ll be making decisions based on gut feel or a predisposition we had before the pilot even started.
We’ll be sliding back into bad old ways. If we always thought the idea was good we’ll be shouting “Hurrah!” If we were always a doubter then we’ll be unconvinced by the stories and small movements in PIs. We’ll be shouting “Boo!” at the tops of our voices. Nothing will have changed.
It might be that moral statements are meaningless as the emotivists believed. But surely those of us committed to social change must hold to the belief that it is possible to demonstrate the tangible difference our actions can make on the world.
It may take time and hard graft to gather the evidence that, say, a new way of kicking things off with a prospective customer helps establish a more open, trusting relationship or that support in the first critical weeks of a tenancy reduces tenancy breakdown, rent arrears and ASB. But if we stick with it then the prize is worth winning.
Now when we roll out a new service or a new way of working we won’t be doing it because the idea just ran away with itself or because its supporters shouted louder than its detractors. We’ll be doing it because we know it works.