#AccessEd 22 – Taking a second look at research…

How do we get more value out of the research we and others commission?

Last week I attended a meeting of the Social Investment Research Council, (SIRC). This is a group of funders who commission research relating directly or indirectly to social investment, brought together and managed by colleagues at Big Society Capital (BSC). We meet around 4 times a year, to discuss current projects, explore common areas of interest and look for opportunities to learn from each other.

A primary rationale for SIRC is to work to get the best value out of the research we all commission, through coordinating our efforts and, where possible, co-funding work of shared interest. For example, Access and BSC recently co-funded a review of the Impact Readiness Fund (IRF), which resulted in the excellent “That’s my hat!” by Adrian Hornsby. In this case, we’ve also followed up the publication of the report with a learning event in September, to be led by NPC, who are managing Access’ Impact Management Programme (IMP) on our behalf.

This event also falls under the banner of getting best value, as it will be an opportunity to talk through how Adrian’s recommendations could influence the delivery of the IMP, as the closest successor to the IRF (with apologies for the flood of acronyms). As insightful and relevant as the findings from such research may be, we are conscious that additional effort is needed for them to find purchase and have influence.

Having produced the Small Charities and Social Investment report last year, Leila Baker of IVAR wrote in a recent blog, “unless we share what we’ve learned, we haven’t finished the research ‘job'”: she goes on to say that this costs money, and in this case we and our co-funders Barrow Cadbury Trust provided funding not only for them to complete their research, but to broadcast its findings to a broader audience.

It is probably fair to say, however, that this remains an exception rather than the norm, and this presents a challenge for us and the other members of the SIRC. What can we do to get more value out of research already completed, and commission more valuable research in future?

Collectively we have funded dozens of pieces of research, and beyond our membership, many more have been completed: as an indication, BSC lists 137 research reports relating to social investment, 51 of which have been published in the past two years. There is an opportunity here to look across the piece at this body of work, pull out common themes and trends, assess whether we and others have responded to the collective picture of the market which emerges, and identify the next set of questions we need to investigate.

Following our meeting last week I’ll be working with colleagues on the SIRC to develop this idea, with a particular focus on being ‘user-led’. In other words, closely involving the people we think can and should be influenced by our research in scoping this project, and shaping the form any final output should take. As a starter for ten, to me this would look like a combination of:

1.  a collective ‘State of Social Investment’ statement, drawn out of the existing body of research, and updated once every six months or so, and

2. a comprehensive library of the reports themselves, with some simple, intuitive tagging so people can find relevant research with a couple of clicks.

However, the beauty of taking a user-led approach is that we don’t have to come up with the right answer first time, and we may well find that the end result looks quite different. For now, we’ve got more work to do to take this opportunity and turn it into a project: I’ll look forward to updating you once we’ve made progress.