How a museum can measure its impact on worklessness

Central to Iain Duncan Smith’s recent announcement of a radical shakeup of the benefits system is the desire to see work as more attractive than living on benefits. By allowing their cheer leaders in the press to purvey notion of the idle poor, the government has faced little criticism as it plans to withdraw some benefits if people cannot take up the offer of work. Moreover, the narrowing of thresholds for claims for Employment and Support Allowance  (formerly incapacity benefit) further reiterates the belief that reducing the cost of the benefit system will encourage more people to find work.

Whilst much is heard of sticks, very little attention has been given to the carrots of improving the  training, skills development and confidence building of the long term unemployed. This is largely because breaking the cycle of worklessness is an expensive and long term concern.  MEAL has been developed a successful programme of work-based learning, aimed at giving long-term unemployed people the first step to getting a job. Far from being the Frank Gallagher’s of this world many of the people on the scheme are the most vulnerable members of society. Some have had mental health problems, others have complex social and emotional needs. The programme, an eight-week course which combines basic skills and project work based in a heritage context has seen 130 people gain certificated training. Over 60 people have gone on into the employment and a further 40 have either continued to volunteer or gone on to other training.

Whilst the success of the programme could be measured in how many people go in to work, we wanted to understand both its cost benefit and its impact on the wider community and families of participants. We commissioned Mandy Barnett to carry out research some research using the Social Return on Investmetment (SROI) methodology.  SROI is a complex and revealing methodology which avoids the imprecision of qualitative and blandness of quantitative evaluation. It involved talking to participants their families and referral agencies as well as interpreting the economic data. The key findings of the research were

  • For every £1 invested £4 went back to the economy
  • A joined up approach between referral agencies, the museum and participants was key to people progressing towards work
  • That the impact on family relationships of progression to worklessness is hidden from a bald quantitative narrative. SROI put value on this benefit.
  • That the investment in cultural heritage was key to the success of the programme. Participants progressed because they connected or were interested in the museum.

Whilst the programme was a success in relative terms, its return ratio of 4:1 is not high. A recent economic impact study of Independent Museums carried by DC Research noted that for every £1 of investment which went into museums £9 went back to the local economy. To me what our research really shows is that helping people into work requires a considerable outlay over a long period. Not only should the focus be on creating the economic conditions for jobs to be available, but to invest in the long term nurturing and support of people so that they make, what for many will be, the biggest step of their lives.

You can read the summary of MB Associates Social Return on Investment report for MEAL’s Work Based Learning Programme Here. MEAL SROI summary 9Nov10

… And a power point presentation hereInvesting in culture & communities-SROI at MEAL summary-MB Assoc Nov10

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