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May 2024

What’s the impact? Lessons of a 1970s steeplejack

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In a random way, I found myself watching a clip from a BBC documentary made in 1979 about the Lancashire steeplejack Fred Dibnah (funny what your social media feed throws up for you – not just funny cat videos).

In this clip (1979: Steeplejack FRED DIBNAH | BBC Archive) Mr Dibnah is taking down a massive 75m high chimney in Shaw and Crompton, a mill town near Oldham, brick by brick!

(Warning: you might want to avoid the clip if you are not good with heights!)

As I started watching, I was immediately struck by the steeplejack’s skill and confidence. It was not only in the way he climbs the ladder to the top of the chimney without any safety harness or equipment, but how he manoeuvres himself on to the scaffolding ‘stagings’ at the top (I swear you can see the platform moving!). He then gets to work with scant regard for his surroundings. You can hear the wind whistling and blowing around.

In the interview Fred Dibnah talks with frustration of his slow progress because of the weather being ‘quite outrageous’.
But then he is:

‘in with a chance to get summit done, like’.

You can definitely see a clear output from Mr Dibnah; soon there will be a large pile of bricks where the chimney once stood. Easy to measure.

Measuring outcomes and impact

Showing how a clear difference has been made (impact) is also a hot topic in safeguarding adults and the role of Safeguarding Adults Boards (SABs), but this is less easy to measure.

A key role of a SAB is working with its members and partnerships to prevent abuse and harm occurring in the first place. And in one way or another, defining and measuring outcomes is an important part of all safeguarding adults work. Whether it is at an individual, agency or at SAB level, showing that safeguarding is personal and effective is crucial.

The Care Act statutory guidance provides a strong and clear focus here. Point 14.11 of the guidance sets out the aims of adult safeguarding to ensure they are effective; 14.12 states that in order to achieve these aims it is necessary to:

  • 'create strong multi-agency partnerships that provide timely and effective (emphasis added) prevention of and responses to abuse or neglect'  Care and support statutory guidance 

And at 14.139, it requires each SAB to:

  • establish how it will hold partners to account and gain assurance of the effectiveness (emphasis added) of its arrangements 

But how do we measure safeguarding outcomes effectively?

A very frequently heard comment made about findings from Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) is that the same topics for system learning keep coming up time and again. At the launch of the second national analysis of Safeguarding Adults Reviews recently, it was noted that we (as a collective network) are good at asking ‘what’ happened, but much less able to answer clearly ‘why’ it happened.

With a ‘why’ question we can more easily step towards bringing in information (data) to help us demonstrate a difference.

It has been observed that SABs have struggled to identify their impact, and need to consider what type of impact they are seeking to demonstrate before attempting to capture the supporting information (Michael Preston-Shoot 2019). My sense is that there has been significant progress and sustained work to address the question in the last five years. This important question is now much more part of our safeguarding adult narrative.

Certainly Norfolk SAB, and I believe SABs up and down the country, are talking about and researching the data to answer the ‘why’ question. We are regularly asking ourselves, 'What difference have we made?', even if it is not always easy to access the data and provide the evidence of our outputs and impact. We have made strong progress on the data we are using in no small measure down to the hard work of the Quality & assurance subgroup, and in particular the support from Alex from the local authority’s Intelligence and analytics team - thank you Alex.

I think Michael’s paper helps us set out frameworks for identifying the different types of outcomes and impact that SABs may achieve through their strategic business plans, and for ensuring that the different components are present for the successful implementation and maintenance of change. As such it is a useful read for anyone grappling with this topic.

The annual report: a key document for demonstrating impact?

A key opportunity for a SAB to show its impact is via its annual report. This document helps to detail what the SAB has done during the year to achieve its main objective and implement its strategic plan. You could look at this document as a rather dry (but required) task for a SAB. I have found it very helpful to reframe my thinking, to see the annual report as giving us the opportunity to show and celebrate what we have done. The next step is to include in the annual report some form of evidence that can point to the difference the board and its partnerships have made.

So, how do we get to our equivalent of the ‘pile of bricks’ you would see after Mr Dibnah had finished taking down that chimney?  

This is where I am asking readers of this blog to help:

For this year’s annual report we are asking people to complete a very short survey, sharing in a few words how NSAB has helped you make a difference in your safeguarding work.  We want to use these examples in our 2023/24 annual report. You don’t have to give your name, but it would have greater impact if we were able to attribute your quote.

And, if you are reading this blog from a wider field than Norfolk, please do still tell us, that would be fabulous, too. This would all be great evidence of our impact.

Here is a link to the survey

Please do take a just few minutes to fill it in. Thank you.

Walter Lloyd-Smith
NSAB Board Manager

Email: [email protected]

Preston-Shoot M (2019) Making any difference? Conceptualising the impact of safeguarding adults boards. The Journal of Adult Protection, 22(1):21-34.