Why I’m Chairing a conference on Social Outcomes – and why I think you need to be there.

Measuring and Evaluating Social Outcomes 2021

Adapting to complex change & using digital tools to measure impact.


I know it’s a cliché, but the world has changed. And for those of us looking to measure and evaluate those changes? Our world is changing too. We’re in the middle of a massive digital transformation – the traditional tools and systems to measure and manage data are struggling to keep up, and programs and projects have morphed overnight into online delivery modalities, upending program plans and associated measurement and evaluation frameworks.

In my role, it’s something I’m seeing on a daily basis, and it’s also something I believe we as social innovators and evaluators need to get in front of. That’s why I’m chairing next week’s conference on Measuring & Evaluating Social Outcomes 2021, focussing on adapting to complex change and using digital tools to measure impact.

We have an amazing variety of speakers from government, NGOs and universities, as well as indeoendent consultants – all at the cutting edge of this practice. Some of the organisations being represented include Headspace, Movember, The Benevolent Society, National Centre for Indigenous Excellence as well as Centre for Social Impact and my colleagues at Our Community, Social Outcomes, Civita, NSW Dept of Ed, Treasury, VIC Dept of Health…the list goes on.

Despite working in this space, I’m slightly nervous about chairing this two day event, as I don’t really like being online for longer than 45mins at a time, and am a little worried everyone is totally zoom fatigued. However, we’re trying to combat that by keeping the sessions bite-sized, and the conference won’t take up the entire two days. It will also be a chance to network and engage with other attendees – through ‘virtual tables’ (although I’m not sure if we’ll get virtual minties with that). I reckon it’ll be fun and engaging, so I’d also encourage you to get a few peeps together and call in as a group. Here’s what we’ll be covering:

Day One is all about adaptive responses to rapid and complex change.

We have an international keynote zooming in from London to talk about rapid qual research and responsive research (is that like action research?), followed by Eleanor Williams from Dept of Health who lead her team to do rapid outcomes measurement in the middle of Melbourne’s Covid response. This is a fascinating case study and Eleanor is a great speaker. This will be followed up with more case studies from Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and NSW Treasury. Treasury are going to talk about Cost Benefit Analysis in Aboriginal-specific programs that incorporate culture and connection to Country (I am totally intrigued to hear how that works). On the theme of First Nations people, the awesome Skye Trudgett and Isobel Ingraham from NCIE are going to challenge our mindsets of how to measure and evaluate impact for First Nations People – and we all need to hear this.

Our last session for Day One will be from the NSW Departments of Education and Treasury about how they’ve been implementing outcomes-based contracting for youth employment programs. Personally, I want to know what worked, were their intended outcomes met, did people game the system? I have so many questions!

On Day Two, we’re diving into embedding online and digital tools to measure and track impact.

Elizabeth and Graham Brown from CSI are going to tell us about their great work with Amplify. Nic Telford from Headspace and Jen Anderson from Movember are both presenting on their experiences as evaluation leads in organisations delivering digital services to constituents. Ethel Karskens is going to talk about high quality data for reporting, because we all know what it means for our work if you can’t trust the data. In the afternoon, we’ll be talking about funding and outcomes with the trailblazing Kathy Richardson sharing some really great changes to SmartyGrants (the biggest granting software in Australia) and how that’s being used to track outcomes for funders. We’re going to finish up with a great panel with Vanessa Lesnie from Social Outcomes, Tanya Jackson-Vaughan from Stepping Stone House and Claudia Lennon, the Director of Practice and Impact Management at The Benevolent Society discussing the future of funding and outcomes and ‘impact risk’.

Phew! Ok, I’m less nervous now, and convinced it’s going to be a great few days. There will also be workshops for those who want to dig deeper. Vanessa is running a workshop on outcomes-based contracts (essential for any organisation thinking about entering one of these), and I’ll be running a workshop on outcomes measurement with digital tools. Ethel will also be running a session on using data to tell a compelling story – which is often the missing middle, that is, the translation of data to insights. You can check out the full agenda here.

I hope to see you there – albeit as a tiny little square on my screen  . The Hatchery (who is hosting the event) have some great tech to track questions and discussion points, which will document a rich and diverse conversation as we learn together about how our practice is rapidly changing, how we have adapted in these complex times, how we can use digital to improve our practice in these times.t