Spirit of Learning

When Spirit was set up, just a over a year ago, we were charged with the huge and daunting task of “leaving a legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for communities across the UK” and, in doing so, become the custodians of a knowledge bank on the power of national and local events to be catalysts for social change. Our remit was to encompass all those elements that made up the incredible ‘Spirit’ of that summer – from sport and arts and culture to volunteering and youth leadership and challenging and changing perceptions of disability and impairment - along with that feeling in communities that we were a bit prouder and happier and more confident as a result of the Games. We were given 10 years and £40m to do it with. No small ask!

So, one year on, how are we doing on developing our ‘Spirit of Learning’?

Well, our first action was to develop a ‘Theory of Change’ so we could really understand the impact we want Spirit’s endowment to have, and how we might achieve it. Theories of Change are often used by charities and projects as a planning tool to understand how to get from A to B and to help frame the story of that journey. Our challenge was to develop a Theory of Change across our very broad remit, with some challenging aims and outcomes, and to do so as a funder and enabler of others rather than by directly running projects. With the invaluable assistance of inFocus consultants we embarked on a significant process of stakeholder consultation to look at what type of impact we should aspire to, what type of organisation others in the landscape wanted us to become and what success would look like. This debate challenged our assumptions and prejudices and was an insightful and eye-opening process.

The result is a pathway that takes us from our intuitive sense that events can provide a spark of inspiration to our firmly grounded belief that giving people the opportunity to participate in activities and communities can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, can challenge and change people’s perceptions of disability and impairment and ultimately lead to great social cohesion. We feel now that we have a firm footing for our belief that giving people the opportunity to take part, to join in with others, makes people happier and healthier and makes our communities a better place to be in; we think that that is what was felt across the UK during the summer of 2012.

People tell us all the time that they are still inspired by the events of 2012 but, if we are to have any lasting impact, the thinking that has resulted in our Theory of Change has showed us that we need to look forward, to work through future events to re-ignite that spark, rather than looking back to the past.

We, at Spirit, are not the only people that believe wellbeing is worth investing in, and we were pleased to see the recent announcement of a What Works Centre for Wellbeing to be led by Lord O’Donnell.

We are the only funder investing in wellbeing on the back of events across the UK and across such a broad and diverse remit. Developing our Theory of Change has helped us understand what that really means in terms of the projects we will fund and the partnerships we’ll seek to foster. Our work will link directly into the New Economic Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing encouraging people to: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give – and we want to measure the impact this has.

So, what does this mean for those organisations who work with us? Earlier this week we hosted our first monitoring and evaluation event with 18 partner organisations to set out how we will work to tell our story in the first three years of our life. Spirit grant holders are being asked to measure a small number of important outcomes relating to our Theory of Change. All grant holders will be expected to look at the impact of their project on the wellbeing of participants using the ONS Wellbeing measures. Using these widely-used indicators will allow us compare our results with others and take part in the current policy conversation about the importance of wellbeing and of happiness as measures of success for society. Partners are also all being asked to look at people’s perceptions of disability and impairment. Over time we will be able to see whether our funding, that enables people to get out and do more, is making people feel better and see themselves, and others, differently. We know that it won’t just be our project making this change in people’s lives but by developing detailed case studies on those taking part we hope to see and evidence a definite link.

We are delighted that inFocus Enterprises, leading a national consortium of experienced researchers, is going to be with us on this journey, taking an independent look at how we’re doing. We’ll share our learning and hope to play a part in showing that being active can have a positive impact on people’s lives; connecting people, communities and generations, and that the spark from London 2012 can live on through our work.