In early years we make a difference. But what can we do to demonstrate it better and in a more outcomes focused way? And why is this important?
Let me tell you: we need to speak the same language as funders, policy makers, inspectors, and everyone else in children’s services - before it’s too late.
Forgive me for getting a little technical. But we need to organise all our thinking, planning, delivery, and reporting into four key categories.
● inputs (things to get things done, like human and physical resources)
● outputs (the things we produce, including services)
● outcomes (the changes or benefits – positive or negative)
● impacts (the longer-term effects)
Now, what I see all the time is people only describing their work in the first two terms: inputs and outputs.
In early years, that means that people talk about the funding income, environment, the practitioners and the resources in the setting.
And they discuss the services, the delivery of the EYFS, or learning activities. Then they stop at that.
They don’t always sufficiently and effectively promote the remaining two. These are the outcomes, such as learning outcomes, the difference made, the achievements; and the impacts that are wider. For example, this might be a child’s continued learning journey into school and beyond, or the influences upon parenting, family life, and/or community.
I admit, these are more difficult to measure, and often the data isn’t easily forthcoming, nor is there always much time available.
But it is all of these together that makes for a well-rounded picture, and something that delights those whom we need to convince of the amazing effects of our work.
I use the example of building a new house to illustrate what I mean:
Inputs: These are the things you need to build a house - wood, bricks, cement and sand, and all the things that go inside, such as furnishings. They include your money, time and effort, and help from friends, family and/or professionals and the equipment you use and so on.
Outputs: These are the house itself being built, the walls and floors, the roof and all the rooms and features needed for you to live in it as a functioning house.
Outcomes: These are the things you can do as a result of the new house. Most importantly, this house becomes a home. It’s somewhere for you to live, your own space, and this will have an immediate effect on you being able to change your life and work.
Impact: These are the benefits of living in your new home. What are the positive and negative, primary and secondary, intended or unintended effects? Has it made you happier and healthier? Have you joined a new community, made new friends, enjoyed new places to go and so on?
If you were to move into that house, and then bump into a friend, I would guess you would tell them about outcomes and impacts above all.
They are more interesting and powerful than the bricks and mortar, for me anyway.
And that is the shift many of us need to achieve at work. To tell people how we make a difference to how people live, work, feel, thrive and use their early years foundation as a springboard for the future.
We create impact. We deliver outcomes. Too often we can fall into the trap of talking only in terms of inputs and outputs.
Hopefully, this article will support us all to work together to think a little differently.
James Hempsall OBE is director of Hempsall’s training, research and consultancy.