Should stories be used as a measure of success?

I was interested to read last week that Frances Maude had said measuring the success of the Big Society is “mostly about the stories, the anecdotes about what people are doing.” As much as I love stories, I don’t agree with that statement.

If the government ever finds a way to get the Big Society off the starting blocks (currently 78% of the British public think the PM has failed to articulate what the term actually means) I think they are going to have to find more robust measures of success. Offering up customer endorsements in place of profit and growth wouldn’t wash in business, so let’s not undermine the credibility of the Big Society further by using stories and anecdotes in place of facts that show progress and change.

But I did like the suggestion that stories should become more of a priority when it comes to reporting and if Maude had said “communicating success” instead of “measuring success” I would have found myself in the awkward position of agreeing with a Conservative minister.

In my view many charities fail to use stories effectively when communicating their impact. How many times have you read a tedious annual report that talks only of the number of workshops held/carers trained/supplies distributed? How many websites tell you what the charity does but not what happens as a result? Why is it that the emotion that drives the creation of charities so often gets lost in the reporting?

Charities aren’t businesses. There isn’t a commercial reason behind their emergence; they exist because someone, once, was so upset or angered by suffering or social need they were driven to do something about it. Creating that same sense of passion and energy in the people reading your materials will not be done through lists of activities and numbers.

People respond to people. Metrics provide evidence but it is individual stories of lives changed or lost that brings issues to life and inspires the public, politicians and purse holders.

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