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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.