Measuring impact and being open and transparent

A drop of water

(Photo: Evan Leeson)

If measurement is going to make a major difference to the practice of family and community work, we need to become much better at being transparent, open and honest. Not surprisingly, when we talk publicly about what we do, we generally try to present it in the best light possible, which can mean minimising or disguising challenges and negatives.

Listening to Senator Zeb Seselja (the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) at the opening of the Family and Relationship Services Australia (FRSA) conference, I reflected on what a huge change is required. The Senator spoke about all the great work the government is doing to support families and the great changes they’ve made. It was more of a sales pitch than open, honest reflection. I don’t want to suggest that he was worse than other people as he is not alone, and I do it too.

Being committed to measuring the impact of our work means we need to be open to the possibility that some things won’t work and that we will have failures. While this can be relatively easily in private, it can be hard to share our work publically, warts and all. When we present our work, our reputation can be at stake, we might be thinking about future funding, or we might be wanting to promote a program or an approach. We can be under a great deal of pressure to promote it rather than to provide an honest critique. How we share our stories can also have an impact on others (e.g., partners, colleagues, clients) so we need to think about our relationship with them and their reputation.

I sometimes struggle with how much to say in the blog. When I’ve discussed Kid’s Vegies on the Verge, Transition Streets, and even the recent Fair Share Festival and the visit by the Indonesian academics, I sometimes feel I gloss over some of the challenges. I try to be honest but it can be difficult. Sometimes discussing some of the difficulties could imply (or actually be) a criticism of other people involved. Sometime, it could highlight my limitations which could have implications for my employment or obtaining consultancies for the Family Action Centre. Sometimes it could mean I undermine the work of others.

I’ve been involved in a few failures I would love to discuss as I have learnt a great deal from them but, as they involved other people, I don’t feel I have the right.

Creating an organisation culture that allows mistakes and failure, and that encourages honest reflection, is one thing. It is another thing to share these mistakes and failures publically.

(Takes a deep breath.) I think you can expect some posts in the coming months where I experiment with sharing more about some of the challenges I personally find in my work.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. What is evidence-based practice?
  2. What are program logic models?
  3. Why I blog
  4. Ethics and community engagement
  5. 7 principles guiding my work
  6. Nonviolence as a Framework for Youth Work Practice

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Being an academic and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Measuring impact and being open and transparent

  1. Thanks Rowena
    I think that is one of the reasons that I generally write about concepts rather than the work I do. I couldn’t be one of those bloggers who writes about their lives and don’t seem to protect those around them or worry how they will react. Often I would like to write something, but it would involve including the story of somebody else. Sometimes it may not be very complimentary, or at least present a perspective they would not agree with.
    So possibly presenting with somebody else is one way to do it. Today I’m presenting on the evidence-based practice work I’ve been doing, and I’m presenting with one of my work colleagues and one of the practitioners from the services we worked with. I often do try to do it like that – but haven’t tried it in my blog.
    But even then it could be tricky. For example in the past I’ve sometimes wanted to be quite honest with a funding body about challenges in delivering a project and a supervisor has not thought it was wise.
    Great to hear about the WEL symposium you went to. I think it is very valuable when we can have genuine conversations about what works and the challenges.


  2. Hi Graeme. Librarian from QUT here. I stopped writing about work publically as I found myself being so circumspect my posts were reduced to the level of ..’ something happened at work sometime. I liked it, it was good.’ Would love to see someone tackle this well. :)
    Also, I went to a ‘just work’ cross-disciplinary symposium yesterday, a conversation about Work Integrated Learning (practicums, internships…) which raised issues such as the costs to students, how these land inequitably across the socio-economic landscape, and the limit of benefits in some areas. Wow, that was refreshing! And it looks like it opened the door to sharing between areas with well established practicum cultures and those just starting out on this venture. So, I guess I’m wondering whether co-authoring these posts with our colleagues, partners, clients…or somehow including their perspectives, might be the way forward?


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