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Impact management and cancer breakthroughs

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One of the biggest medical stories of the year so far was last week’s announcement that a new gene test can be used through which “70% of women with the most common form of early stage breast cancer can be spared the agony of chemotherapy". The method applied in the new cancer research is a perfect case study for anyone interested in impact management.

Much like complex medicines, the majority of change-oriented human services are not single-hit remedies but rather combined intervention packages that combine to create an effect over time. An employability scheme may involve life-skills training, mock interviews and work experience. A drug rehab scheme may bring together medication with one-to-one counselling and group therapy. You’ll be able to think of many more examples.  

An impact management approach always strives to ask not simply “what is our success rate” but to go deeper asking “what can we discover about who our intervention is and isn’t successful for, and why”. That’s the question that drove the breast cancer research team to make their breakthrough. They discovered that for the majority of women treated the chemotherapy element of the intervention proved to be wholly ineffective and unnecessary. So is this a question that your organisation is giving due consideration to?  

At Goodlabs we believe that a disciplined approach to service delivery, supported by appropriate data collection and the opportunity for the delivery team to regularly reflect together on results is essential to generating these sort of breakthrough insights.

Finally, a related ethical question worth considering is, “If you discovered tomorrow that an element of your service provision is ineffective for a certain client group – what would you do?” What if that service is part of a commissioning package for which you are well paid? How likely would you be to implement changes to your model, and how quickly? Would you begin to screen out certain clients from your service – after all, why waste their time and yours? Could you re-design aspects of your service to better meet the needs of those for whom it is found to be ineffective?

All vital questions that today’s social leaders need to be wrestling with! Do leave a comment to let me know if any of this resonates with you. 

The Art of Impact


I’m looking forward to presenting at the annual YMCA Chief Executives Network conference later this week. My focus will be on the recent Impact Management project I’ve been doing for YMCA Humber and YMCA North Tyneside.

Kicking off the session I want to face the fact that for those in the business of restoring damaged lives ‘Impact’ is a pretty bizarre choice of word. It is defined as “forcible contact or collision; the act of striking against”. As anyone who’s had a prang in their car knows that impact leaves a noticeable impression. The force can produce an unwanted change in shape. So how can this be a positive thing?

This is why we need to place the idea of Impact within the wider discipline of Impact Management. The positive potential of Impact is unleashed when it is carefully controlled and directed. Think about the way a sculptor skilfully rests the chisel against the rock before striking with just the right amount of force. Deploying a lucid imagination, a trained eye and the repetition of artfully applied blows beauty is slowly revealed. 

When considered this way Impact Management suddenly feels like a perfectly appropriate way to describe a process of personal transformation.

Of course every metaphor has its limitations and I won’t be wanting to give the CEO’s gathered the impression that their organisation’s clients are lifeless boulders. What I do want to do however is to help people to see that Impact Management is not an obscure branch of science to be sub-contracted to spreadsheet-happy ex-accountants; rather it is an artisan process, concerned with deeply human subject matter.

I believe that if we can first conceive of Impact Management as an Art rather than a Science, then we will ensure that we keep in mind the necessity and intensity of personal investment required. In doing this we will avoid losing touch with the real people whose stories often remain hidden in the aggregate data. We will foster working environments for our teams that unlock the imagination they need to respond on a daily basis to the raw human material as they journey with clients in their process of restoration and lasting transformation.

Do let me know any thoughts you might have about the distinction between Impact as an Art and Impact as a Science. I’d love to hear from you.