Catalysing a broader debate on impact, yet overlooking politics?

Further to yesterday’s post on the contradictions of the Impact agenda it is only fair to recognise the efforts being made at the Centre for Youth Impact to catalyse wider debate. The CYI  web site carries a diversity of interesting material, even if inevitably the majority lean favourably towards viewing impact as a vital theoretical and practical construct.


To take one example, the Centre has launched a collection of essays intended to take stock, understand the differing perspectives, and explore where the conversation about impact has taken the field.  The titles are as follows and the attached link should take you to the essay itself.

Is ‘What Works’ a question we should still be seeking to answer?
Dr Nick Axford

“When we ask ‘What works?’ we are using short and simple words to convey rich and complex meaning. It is not like flicking a light switch and asking if the bulb works.”

Download (PDF)

The ins and outs of evidence: making sense of different perspectives on impact measurement
Dr Genevieve Maitland Hudson

“There is a forceful self confidence in much of the impact movement, and a plucky defiance in resistance to it.”

Download (PDF)

Anxiety and Accountability – Impact Leadership in the Youth Sector
Jenny North

“… the overriding accountability, and the relentless focus, of a leader is to make their organisation as good as it can be.”

Download (PDF)

Questioning the Youth Impact Agenda
Tania De St Croix

“The complex challenge is for practitioners and young people to come together collectively to argue – critically and reflectively – for the value of youth work, while questioning and opposing its commodification, monetisation and privatisation.”

Download (PDF)

The value of feedback for impact and beyond
Kai Hopkins

“When faced with challenging circumstances, we often defer to automatic responses,
sometimes described as the fight, flight, freeze or fawn response.”

Download (PDF)

An asset-based approach to Theory of Change
Kaz Stuart and Steve Hillman

“We know that our positive work with young people leads to outcomes, but we (as
a sector) are not always good at unpacking this process or being specific enough about
the gains made.”

Download (PDF)

Thinking about the virtues of character measurement
Emma Taylor

“If just two years ago we were asking whether virtue can be measured at all, it’s exciting to imagine the kind of questions we might be asking in the next couple of years.”

Download (PDF)

Relational social policy
Asha Ali, Beca Sandu and Michael Little

“We now recognise that most need is met not by public services but by civil society, not
by youth justice, social care, special education and mental health systems but by family members, neighbours and community activists.”

Download (PDF)


The profound dilemma haunting all of these pieces, apart from Tania’s, is that they fail to ground their thinking or their proposals in the specific social and political circumstances through which we are living, namely four decades of destructive neoliberal capitalism. This is all the more bizarre in that in one way or another the authors claim to be about social change. Indeed the most recent article on the site is entitled, Critical friendships in leading change, which informs us that ‘when leading a movement for change, “it is important to start small and engage an enthusiastic team of co-conspirators in your work”, quoting Sacks and Grant, writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Whilst there is much talk of creating a network of co-conspirators and building transformative Communities of Practice it is not clear what is meant by change. Indeed the word is used so often it seems in danger of becoming meaningless. The co-conspirators tell us that they desire to reach out to those furthest away from their mission, whatever that precisely is? Perhaps this reveals that, I’ll speak only for myself, I am out on a limb with regard to their aims and objectives, which as far as I can see, are to do mainly with organisational techniques that ignore the anti-social policies of the dominant economic and ideological regime of our time, even though it is in crisis. Perhaps this caution illustrates I am destined to remain in Genevieve Maitland Hudson’s view a ‘pluckily defiant’ contributor to the crucial dialogue about the political purpose of our work with young people. I hope some people find the time to spend with these essays and indeed put me straight perchance about my analysis.

PS It might be worth noting that the Stanford Review folk, quoted favourably, are beholden to a mission to develop and share knowledge to improve philanthropy, strengthen civil society, and effect social change. Adene Sacks is a Nonprofit Strategist. Philanthropic Advisor, whilst Heather Mcleod Grant’s current work focuses on creating transformative leadership and building networks and multi-stakeholder collaborations for social change. She has prior expertise in scaling social impact, social innovation/ entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, and organizational development. At the very least let’s agree that this is not a politically neutral perspective.

One comment

  1. ..many thanks for this I wasn’t aware of it…



    Dr Jon Ord

    Associate Professor

    University of St Mark & St John,





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