Do you have experience listening to the people you exist to serve in order to improve what you do and how you do it? The Young Foundation have now launched an inquiry to explore the role of user voice and experience in social investment.
With support from Big Society Capital and Barrow Cadbury Trust, we will be contacting and convening a range of different people; those with deep experience in bringing user voice into their work, social investment intermediaries and with organisations in receipt of social investment.
If you would like to contribute to the inquiry, we’ve posed some questions below, and warmly welcome your responses.
Why are we doing this?
Over the last few years, there has been a growing momentum toward bringing the voices, perspectives and experiences of people, communities and beneficiaries of services closer to the source of decision-making; closer to institutional sources of power.
We see this in the rise of user-centred design and co-production of public services, increased support for community-led businesses and social action, multiple calls to expand beyond our current modes of democratic engagement. Alongside this there is a growing acknowledgement by all kinds of institutions of the value of listening (and responding) to how people are experiencing different interventions, policies and practice. We also see evidence of where bringing people into processes from which they are often excluded, can build confidence, skills and self-efficacy.
In parallel to this, there has also been a growing preoccupation with evidence based policy making and ‘data-driven innovation’. This shift towards user of data and evidence-based practice has been broadly positive, however it remains the case that evidence is often based primarily on quantitative data, is extractive in nature and carries either an implicit, or sometimes explicit, downgrading of more qualitative, subjective, unstructured forms of data (like peoples stories of their experiences). This results in a range of missed opportunities; including missing out on key insights and unmet needs that might evolve and improve services/policies – and the opportunity to present a more complete evidence-base for interventions aimed at making people’s lives better.
Alongside these general trends, there is a wide ranging debate regarding impact measurement and management within the social investment market, and broad acknowledgement of some of the limitations of current practice, including the challenges of impact measurement being difficult for a certain scale of enterprise, costly, associated with compliance (rather than as a tool for improving performance) and too often focused on output metrics – often for very practical and pragmatic reasons.
More recently we have seen the establishment of initiatives, such as the Impact Management Project, that aim to bring more alignment across the impact investment movement in how funds of funds, fund managers and investees are measuring and managing their impact. Within this there is an explicit focus on gaining a deep understanding and evidence of users and beneficiaries, their preferences and concerns, as related to the outcomes the investment is aiming for.
There are, however, many different points at which the views, experiences and perspectives of ‘end users’ could be prove valuable to social investment. These include:
- An additional input into shaping the focus of social investment funds – i.e. a more fundamental part of any needs analysis and design process.
- As part of the process of measuring the short and long-term social impact of specific ventures/businesses
- In revealing insights and lived realities which identify clear gaps into which investment and support for new ventures/innovation might flow
- As a route to building the agency and self-efficacy of users experiencing particular, and often persistent, challenges
At the end of this short inquiry, we will share:
- The case for listening and acting on user voice in the field of social investment
- A broad typology and analysis of existing tools, approaches; their benefits & challenges
- The touch points for social investment – where and how can user voice increase the effectiveness and impact of social investment
- A distillation of guiding principles and ethics when considering this approach, both in the field of social investment, and more broadly.
Some questions for you…
If you would like to contribute your thoughts and perspectives on this issue, here are a few questions we’d love you to consider:
- Where have you seen user voice approaches worked and why?
- What do you think are the underlying values, norms and beliefs that underpin the desire for increased user voice? Why do you think it so important?
- What are the practical implications for social investors and considerations when listening and responding to the voices and experiences of people/communities to influence the behaviours of investors and ventures?
- As social investors work more deliberately in geographic places, what practices and tools for public/user involvement best support place-based social investment strategies?
- Which existing tools, approaches and methods that support the input of people’s voices and experiences do you think are most effective, in what context?
- What are the behaviours and processes that drive organisational culture towards valuing and using the insights created by increased user voice? Namely, how do you close the loop from hearing what people have to say, to changing policy and practice?