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  • Author or Editor: Ed Garrett x
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Showing evidence of social impact is nothing new for those working in and with communities; the social is what we have always been interested in. However, the process and profile of this way of showing evidence has changed in recent years. Expectations of corporate social responsibility on the private sector, to demonstrate its social as well as its financial value, through some process of social impact measurement, have translated to demands from funders, investors and commissioners for more robust ways of capturing social impact, from those working in the public and third sectors (Arvidson and Lyon, 2014). The measurement of social impact therefore has become closely associated with approaches such as social accounting and social return on investment, which have this apparent rigour. Although such approaches can be valuable, there are other ways of showing evidence of social impact that may be more familiar to practitioners working in the community. Before going on to consider some of these approaches, let us make clearer what social impact measurement involves. First, of course, it considers impact. As the introduction to this book explains, impact is about change and, more specifically, it is about the effects of the activity that brings about this change. This understanding suggests a clear link of attribution between the activity and the impact. However, this understanding does not seem to be universally used and the distinction between impacts and outcomes in particular seems to be a matter of debate (or more likely confusion) (Maas, 2009). There is no need to be too worried about this and certainly no need to get bogged down in trying to establish common understandings.

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This chapter looks at the importance of anecdote and observation. As practitioners, we constantly observe, as a matter of course, the groups, communities and individuals with whom we work. For example, when delivering training to a group, Ed looks for signs that show him if the training is going well or not; how people respond to tasks; how engaged participants are; and how they relate to each other. We use these observations, sometimes explicitly but often implicitly, to build our evidence of impact. So, a good understanding of the use of observation in showing evidence of impact is an invaluable skill for any practitioner, because it is something we all do anyway as part of our community work. Just as important, however, understanding exactly how we can use observation in building evidence is a key part of our practice as community workers and it can define our relationships with other professionals too. As Chapter 3 argued, as community workers, we often deal most closely with the local, the anecdotal and the historically situated, and this kind of knowledge is not always highly valued. Different forms of knowing are valued differently by different people. Observation is largely about this kind of local evidence, and if we can understand it better we can justify it better to others. Observation, as a method, has a central place in social science research. This is not a book about research methods, but it is important to distinguish between different ways of observing to understand exactly what we do as practitioners working with communities.

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Engagement is at the heart of what the community worker does. It is about working with communities, particularly those most marginalised, to find out what matters to them and then looking to work together to take action. This chapter follows the various stages of engagement from planning, to carrying it out, to making sure that it matters. Although it has a strong practical focus it argues that effective engagement requires a reflection on theory, particularly around power, voice and the valuing of knowledge. Too often, engagement can be tokenistic and part of a hegemonic process in which we consent to our own powerlessness. Community work needs to critically interrogate this process, bearing in mind inclusion, voice and multiple forms of knowledge.

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As community workers we are interested in the non-medical or social determinants of health like income, housing and education. Inequalities in these determinants will lead to health inequalities, which will be the focus of our work in this area. But health can also mean different things to different people, a particular challenge when working with partners from different professional backgrounds. This chapter argues that theory, from Adorno to Foucault, is key to engaging critically with these different discourses of health and how they embody power. Community voice and community-led health are explored as addressing these power inequalities. The importance of theory is emphasised through a discussion of loneliness which uses the ideas of Arendt to argue that loneliness is as much a political issue as a social one.

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The environment, with climate and biodiversity crises, has to now be a major emerging focus for community work practice. Theory is needed, however, to structure this focus. This chapter explores the links between environmental and social justice. Environmental crises tend to affect disadvantaged communities more. Community voice is essential in any community response here, though the role of the community worker can be complicated by the varying interests involved, including local activists and activists from outside the community. In terms of theory, we also need to look at how extending our understanding of community to include the non-human can increase the reach of social justice. Discourses of the environment, like the climate emergency and the valuing of the natural, can be further ways of obfuscating and consolidating power.

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This book is not simply about evaluation. It is much broader than this, as we have already described in Part I. It is primarily about gathering evidence of impact, but you are very likely to encounter evaluation; to want to undertake evaluation; and to learn from what you find out. Chapter 15, on self-evaluation, will contribute to this and should be read in conjunction with this chapter. Evaluation, like presentation of findings, should be a part of your planning process. This chapter considers planning in an evaluation context and also considers mixed methods of gathering data or evidence. It tackles a particularly common form of evaluation, which is the cost–benefit analysis of a project or service, and considers the benefits of radical research, a slight change from the usual approaches to evaluation. Evaluation research or evaluation is a distinctive type of formal research, so is at the far right-hand side of the evidence continuum (see Figure 1.1). There are many competing definitions and understandings of evaluation. Terminology is used very loosely. Sometimes it is used as a noun, so a questionnaire is termed an evaluation. This, we propose, is an incorrect use of the term. Stuart and colleagues (2015) describe evaluation as a specific form of research that ascertains the number, amount, value, quality or importance of programmes. These features are also clearly embedded in our concept of impact. The primary purpose of evaluation is not to acquire new knowledge but to study the effectiveness with which existing knowledge is used to guide practical action (Clarke, 1999) and this is the definition we choose to use.

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This chapter combines discussion of interviews and focus groups because they are both face-to-face means of gathering evidence of effectiveness. They are perhaps the most exciting means of gathering evidence, as the evidence comes directly from participants, who often have the most telling methods of letting us know exactly what they think about what we do. We begin by thinking about metaphors that go with generating evidence by asking questions. Such metaphors include ‘extracting information’, ‘digging for ideas’ or ‘mining for data’ and are very one-sided, in that they refer to the person gathering data rather than the person who is providing it. They also assume there is a ‘truth’ residing in the interviewee that can be foraged out. We contend that any conversation or interview is a social dialogue in which meaning is constructed between people; it is never one-sided. People are social beings and always construct meaning together; this we suggest, demands metaphors of ‘building’, ‘developing ideas’ and ‘working together’. We propose that information generated in interviews is not a found ‘true’ answer to a question, but rather a co-construction of reality between two people. This means that awareness of both self and reflexivity on the part of the interviewer are crucial. For example, individuals interviewed about attitudes to pre-marital sex may give different answers or different slants to their opinion depending on the age of the interviewer. We return to reflexivity and self-awareness later in this chapter and we refer you to Chapter 15 on self-evaluation. Engaging with people for interviews is very important if you wish to get more than just phatic or polite answers to questions.

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Theory into Practice

Written by community workers from diverse contexts, this highly accessible guide equips practitioners and students working in a range of community settings to make the best use of theory in their work. The book focuses on the hope, excitement and possibilities that contemporary theory brings to practice and is essential reading for all those concerned with social justice, inclusion and equality.

Drawing on voices from across the world, influential thinking, both old and new, is applied to the practice that underpins work with individuals, groups and communities. The book will inform and enhance practice for a wide range of students and professionals working in community contexts such as community development, adult education, youth work, community health and social work.

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Prominent throughout this book has been social justice and the need to challenge neoliberalism. One takeaway thought is that we all need to be political. Being political is not easy and we do a disservice to our communities if we do not engage with theory and make the links. To support this work, we need community workers who are brave and politically engaged themselves. This is a profession that asks a lot of us. Our work is about identifying needs, co-designing programmes of learning, reducing barriers and addressing power imbalances. To understand why what we do matters, as community workers we need empathy, something which arguably cannot be taught. The work we do is complex and we are frequently asked to step outside our comfort zone and engage across differences. The work we do is demanding as we seek to engage with communities at times and in places that reduce the barriers for them; can be heart-breaking as we see the discrimination faced by the communities we serve and the trauma that they carry with them; it is sometimes risky and we often find ourselves working against the desired outcome of our employer or funder. But the work we do is rewarding and life changing for the communities we serve and for us as workers.

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This introduction describes the target audience for the book. The book is intended for community workers – professionals working in many different disciplines; working, for example, in practice linked to adult learning, youth work and community development, in the disciplines of health, social work, planning, environment and education. It is intended for people at all stages of practice, be they students, more experienced colleagues or leaders in their field. We have chosen to produce a wide-ranging text to introduce theory across a broad scope and field of practice. Our purpose is to stimulate interest across the profession in using theory and linking it to practice. This attention to a field of practice has resulted in a choice of theorists to include in this book, which is somewhat idiosyncratic. We have selected largely ideas to discuss rather than theorists to present and have tried to choose authors who we consider to be or who are becoming significant to the field.

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