The analogies and metaphors were flying around the room as a group of 85 social impact analysts gathered for the second SIAA conference in Berlin last month. The group included academics, philanthropy advisers, consultants, researchers and foundation staff.
If social impact analysts were animals would they be elephants? Long memories, loyal, disruptive but reflective? Are they glorified accountants? We started the day with a fascinating introduction to the history of accounting and the lessons we can learn from regulation and the development of an industry. As one panellist reminded us, though, accountants use personality as their contraceptive and I personally think we were a far too interesting, engaging and attractive bunch to deserve that comparison! Are they gardeners helping initiatives to grow? The list of analogies went on.
Representing over 18 countries from Japan to Hungary with a predictable weighting towards the UK and Germany, the crowd were ably steered through the day by the wonderful David Carrington, who balanced the technical details with discussions around the trends, and overall reflection on what we as a sector need, desire or predict for the future.
There was of course some industry navel-gazing. It was most certainly a gathering for people who care about their place in a community and who want to share, learn and collaborate, and also aspire to some level or benchmarking, best practices and authenticity for this emerging profession. I do think it is important to note, however, that it did feel like a group of people who were passionate about ensuring that whatever SIAA becomes, it is about improving the way social problems are solved and not just about how we talk about it all!
As with many such gatherings, we occasionally got lost in semantics – where do we stand in relation to programme evaluators and the developments around that group of practitioners? This was one recurring – and not quite resolved – theme.
I think the day certainly reaffirmed to us all that we have a growing community, and we want to see it flourish. Social impact analysis is important and should be the backbone not just of the social sector but also of how the private sector and governments address what is going on in the world.
Alison Bukhari is director of investor relations at Dasra
SIAA have published a full report from this conference.