Blog: Success in the brave new world

To quote Helen Bevan – in our ‘old power’ worlds – we’ve been tied to structures and plans, strategies and impact assessments; measuring our outputs and achievements have been given the same treatment. Numbers of people through the door, numbers of training courses delivered, number of breaths someone has taken while stepping through the door to attend the training course, etcetera, etcetera…

Now to the ‘new power’ world, where strategy is flexible, outcomes light and work on the ground often slow and emergent. What does success look like in this new brave world?

This is  a question I’ve recently been asking commissioners and practitioners who have been trying to enable community driven development. Some of the answers have been quite challenging. Take for example, an under-used community centre which is currently being run by volunteers who feel unable to continue its upkeep. After months of trying to motivate the community to keep it going with little interest, surely we can’t let it close because this is a failure? The small sparks pot which is designed to help people start off their own activity – is it a success if this money is spent or a success when communities have found their own resources and not needed the money? All those innovative ideas which never get off the ground – did we not try hard enough to make them work?

Success needs to be re-evaluated because what it looks like on the ground is far from neat and packaged.

It is hard for frontline workers to avoid getting too involved and step in to make things happen if their measure of success is prescribed and quantified into number of tasks completed: the number of groups created, a community centre saved, a knitter-natter group which is growing in numbers and is now a social enterprise. Success needs to be re-evaluated because what it looks like on the ground is far from neat and packaged. A better understanding and appreciation of each community setting by funders would reduce the pressure on everyone to create something tangible and provide the time and space for workers and the community to take their time, connect, create and not create. The Knitter-natter group which folded after 6 months due to lack of interest isn’t seen as a failure, the closure of a community centre which is expensive to run and nobody uses, is just something that has happened. Neither good nor bad.

The brave new world should be less about projects with clear outputs, exit plans and timescales and more about intentions, relationships and hearts and minds. Working with our humanity not our spreadsheets.

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