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Our Social Impact Journey: Part 1

There are so many fun things about the Sunday Assembly that it always seems odd to pick out just one (and I’ll be talking about our mission in this post), when I could talk about our values, or our methods, or our people. Imagine how great it is to work at an organization that helps people Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More. It is the best. Or how wonderful it is that our Assemblies aim to be ‘entertaining but not just entertainment’. Entertaining people is our modus operandi! Laughter is our weapon! Joy our tool! That is the best too.

However, cooler than all of these things is our mission: to try to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential.

When Pippa and I first drafted the Public Charter we wanted to make sure that our mission was clear, without being prescriptive. As we have frequently said ‘We’re not here to tell you how to live your life, we just want to help you do whatever you want to do as well as you can’ (though, in one of our first Assemblies I added the proviso ‘Unless you want to be an axe murderer, in which case, have you thoughts about taking up gardening?’ – and that advice stills stands…).

The question is, how do we help to make that happen? Luckily, we were chosen to go on the EU Transition, an incubator for social innnovations, that was run by the Young Foundation. It seems odd to be in an incubator when we have already scaled to 30 locations, but we wanted to make sure that we had really thought through what we were doing.

Greg Winfield and Stu Thomason at the Young Foundation helped us do just that. We worked out what it is the Sunday Assembly does, which made it clearer to us how we help, and made us aware of more opportunities. This knowledge will in turn show how we are doing good to the rest of the world, as well as helping us communicate with potential future funders who like that sort of thing.

Transition EU  made us think deeply about who are our users? What problem are we trying to solve? How do we measure that problem? How do we measure our impact? What’s our Theory of Change? And how do we make sure we help the people who need helping the most?

What Is Our Problem?

The big question was this: what problem are we trying to solve?

What is the issue that Sunday Assembly addresses? And what is the measurable target that we are trying to change? Luckily, Young Foundation organized a Demo Day, where we met lots of amazing people who helped us with finesse the work we’d done in the programme. Bethia McNeill from the Social Research Unit at Dartington let us know that it was not surprising we were grappling with the issue, as there’s no widely accepted measure for the decline of community, or what it is that communities do and how they help people.

Should we, for instance, measure the amount of new connections that people create when they come to the Sunday Assembly? This could be measured with social network analysis for instance (thanks to Joanna Wild from Sunday Assembly Oxford for that suggestion).

This leads onto…..

What Are We Measuring?

Alex Van Vliet from New Philanthropy Capital advised us to look at the impact report and theory of change of Business In The Community, who connect business leaders to small businesses. Their report, here, is a great way of showing the value of the connections they create.

One way we will affect people, is in subjective wellbeing, and we found out more about the Edinburgh Warwick Wellbeing Scale. This is the most recognised wellbeing test around as it accounts for Hedonic (happiness) and Eudaemonic (life satisfaction) wellbeing. It is a very well evidenced scale and though the full test is 14 questions long, there is a 7 question version which works just as well (which is a relief as no one likes long surveys).

With a digital platform in the making (and exciting news to come on that), we could even incorporate that scale into the site, and, if people wanted, they could track their wellbeing over time, which would be brilliant (data really excites me).

Who Are We Helping?

Another question we had to deal with is: who are we helping? Our mission is to try to help everyone find and fulfill their potential, but are we reaching out to the most disadvantaged?

Yes, we are, but we could do more. Assemblies up and down the country, and across the world, are doing lots of volunteering helping those that need help most, and everyone who gets involved in SA really wants to make a difference. Our challenge now is to show how we can bring other people into the Sunday Assembly community so that they can create sustaining communities for people of all backgrounds.

Towards A Conclusion

The great thing is that we are finding answers to these questions. When Pippa and I launched the first Assembly we knew that we would learn as we went. As stand up comedians we’re used to trying out material and improving it as we go (in the social impact world you’d describe joke writing that as an ‘iterative co-creative design method for laughter promoting discourse’). What we shared was a vision of a network of Assemblies helping people all over the country and the world, though we just didn’t see it happening as quickly as it did (thanks, the internet!).

Now with the help of our countless supporters, our amazing partners at the Young Foundation, the support of the RSA Catalyst Fund, and folk like Steve Coles from Intentionality, we are answering those questions. A special big shout out to The Sunday Assembly Network: without Anita Marsden in Brighton, Joanna Wild in Oxford, Michael Plant, Helen Parnham and Kate Fitch in London, Sally Galligan in Manchester and Kris Martens in Brussels – to name but a few – this couldn’t have happened.

So stay tuned for Part 2 of this blogpost as we show how we’re turning the positive vibes, good times and overflowing community spirit of The Sunday Assembly, into real measurable social impact.