What local authority commissioners think about measuring soft outcomes – “we musn’t forget that services have people at the end of them”

Once the engine-house of the British empire, Manchester is now a very modern city – a mix of traditional industry, high skills companies, universities, and cultural (and sporting) success.

Yesterday NPC held a lunchtime seminar for commissioners across the Greater Manchester councils, hosted by New Economy Manchester. Colleagues from Manchester City, Trafford, Salford, Stockport, Rochdale and beyond all came to debate how well-being was part of the work they do, and how it fitted with their aims and objectives as custodians of tax payers’ money.

We gave a short presentation on our Well-being Measure, and then a lively discussion was chaired by Mike Emmerich, chief executive of New Economy. During the discussion, the following points were raised:

  • Commissioners need to be convinced of the link between well-being outcomes and ‘hard’ measures. For example, what is the link between improvement in self-esteem scores and ability to get a job?
  • Measures of well-being could be used in conjunction with hard outcome measures as part of a ‘chain of outcomes’, eventually resulting in the final outcome such as finding a job.
  • It would be valuable if the same measures were used consistently across services, and across age groups, to give commissioners a better basis on which to judge success.
  • In incentive-driven programmes where there may be the risk of ‘cream-skinning’, could measuring soft outcomes be used alongside hard measures to make sure soft outcomes haven’t suffered?
  • Is measuring well-being a way that local authorities could see outcomes where the main outcome hasn’t been achieved? For example, in case of welfare to work programmes for at-risk groups which might only be successful in 30% of cases.
  • Measuring soft outcomes, such as well-being, are never likely to become more important than measuring ‘cashable savings’. In some services, it may be viewed as an additional burden rather than a positive contribution.

Overall, the feedback was positive but provided lots of critical food for thought for everyone concerned with soft outcomes. Commissioners see the importance of well-being  but are under more pressure than ever to do more with less money – and focus on cashable savings.

The challenges faced by commissioners are not easy, and ones where there are constant judgments made about competing priorities. But as one participant summed it up ‘we musn’t forget that services have people at the end of them – it isn’t just about delivering units’.

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About John Copps

John is part of NPC's research and consulting team and is the founder of NPC's Well-being Measure, a social business that provides an online tool to measure young people’s well-being. He has eight years experience of research and consulting, and is passionate about how data can be used to improve the performance of organisations. John is a regular contributor to NPC's blog and has also contributed to pieces for BBC Radio, the Guardian, and the Financial Times. John is a governor of a secondary school.
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