Sarah Morton on the Matter of Focus journey, so far. From academia to mission-led business startup.
This post was originally published on Nov 28, 2017 and has been updated to reflect our progress since then!
I have always been interested in innovation – trying new approaches to solving problems, new ideas, new ways of thinking that result in better services, processes and policies for people and communities. I particularly enjoy bringing together different approaches from distinct sectors and watching the sparks fly as they interact and create new ideas. This has happened throughout my career: thinking about adult education and the arts for my MSc; bringing together the children’s sector with HIV organisations in a national development role; outreach into mental health services; and more recently, bringing real world experience and ideas into research to create more dynamic, outward facing and change-making research-to-action
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Meeting Ailsa and building our company Matter of Focus has been charged with that same kind of energy and dynamism. Like me, Ailsa had kept one foot in academia and one firmly planted in the real world. Through her work on dementia, person-centered services and on how practitioners use evidence to create change, she had built wonderful expertise in understanding the potential of developing evidence that can be practical and capable of supporting real world change. When we met we instantly recognised a synergy in our approaches and values.
Addressing some unmet needs in public services
Bringing together our experiences has given us a clear focus on some unmet need in public services that we want to address. The three questions that many of our public service collaborators and clients struggle with are:
- Do you know how your project/programme or organisation makes a difference for the people and communities you serve?
- Can you link your outcomes with your activities?
- Are you able to use the information or data you have to show how your work really makes a difference?
The Outcome Focus approach
Over the past four years Ailsa and I have worked together on a number of different projects to develop new ways of helping organisations address these issues. We are on a mission to improve public services. The result is an approach that organisations are now using to develop, understand, map and evidence their pathways to outcomes. The approach is based on Contribution Analysis (a theory-based approach to evaluation) and strongly influenced by participatory and action research approaches. Organisations that make a difference in the world through working with people are particularly enthusiastic about our approach as it gives them tools to understand and drive change.
Developing our software
We have spent the last 18 months developing our innovative software OutNav to support our approach. The software:
- helps visualise and communicate the outcomes that matter to a project, programme or organisation,
- provides a way of bringing together the diverse forms of data, feedback and evaluation organisations need to demonstrate the difference they make, and
- helps create powerful outcomes-focused reports for funders, colleagues and service-users.