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Europeana’s Impact Playbook: the cultural heritage professionals’ guide to assessing impact

As a cultural heritage institution it can be quite a challenge to demonstrate the impact of your work. What is the effect it has on people’s lives? And what are the right tools to measure the effect of the daily activities of your museum, library or archive?

We asked Julia Fallon, IPR & Policy Advisor at the Europeana Foundation. Julia develops, implements and manages Europeana’s policies and practices, one of which is the Impact Playbook. The Playbook has been developed to guide institutions through the process of identifying the impact that it has, or is aiming to have. According to Julia:

It is time for the cultural heritage sector to have a common language to talk about impact. By impact, we mean the change that our users and the wider society experience as a result of the work that we do. This change is notoriously difficult to articulate in a meaningful way, can feel unachievable by organisations already struggling with limited resources. We believe that unless we become more systematic in assessing and narrating our direct and indirect value to society, our sector is at risk of remaining seriously under-recognised as a major contributor to the knowledge-based economy.

– Why was the Impact Playbook developed?
JF: We know how daunting the task of undertaking an impact assessment can be – we’ve been through it ourselves quite a few times now. We saw first hand the need to develop a common language for the cultural (heritage) sector to use when talking about impact. So that we can start to articulate, better understand and refine our work that makes a contribution to the wellbeing of society. We also saw the need to develop a method that was easy to follow and clearly applicable to our sector. And it needed to be equally accessible for small and large institutions.

The result was the release of the Impact Playbook in October 2017 –  which was developed using our own experiences and with the guidance of impact experts. It covers the first of four phases –  helping colleagues in the sector to plan, run and evaluate their own impact assessments. And it’s part of a toolkit which offers resources, case studies and a community open for anyone with an interest in the topic.

– ‘We believe the cultural heritage sector can increase the change it brings about in people’s lives by learning how to manage its impact’ – can you elaborate on this?
JF: Taking steps to better understand impact adds extra context to the business information organisations already collect, which ultimately can help deliver improvements. From one of our first impact assessments at Europeana, we found that one of our most successful products – Europeana 1914-1918 – simply wasn’t as effective as we hoped it would be. Our impact research showed us that people didn’t learn as much as they expected to from the stories and objects collected around WW1, and that language was a common barrier.  With this knowledge we were able to determine what opportunities there were to address that – supporting Trasncribathons was a clear example of this.  

Of course, we need to undertake more research to understand how things have changed in that case. But this learning experience is not an isolated experience – we see it across our own impact assessments, and we hear it in the feedback we receive from organizations already using the Playbook. So we are convinced that through learning more about impact, we can show our true value, speed up innovation and increase our relevance to society.

– What do institutions gain from measuring their impact and using the Playbook?
JF: In one of our case studies on the first phase of the Playbook, Dafydd Tudur from the National Library of Wales found three benefits; that the Playbook helps focus thoughts on who benefits from the work that is delivered rather than on just on the work itself, that it is a useful tool for planning projects as it helps you think more holistically, prompting discussion between people and on topics that otherwise might not have surfaced, and more generally, that it is great for team building.

This was great feedback to hear – and as the first cohort of organisations finishes working through phase I of the Playbook we’ll be hearing more from them about their experiences using the {laybook as well as the results of their impact research. We know there are more benefits to be realised, some of which will depend on the nature of the organisation – for example, the Playbook offers a flexible way of working and challenging assumptions which may not be a commons way of working for some, and it might fit well with others. Another example is that it also can influence the way an organisation talks about its work linking it with social change – in its own communications with users, funders, policymakers or even colleagues.

– Can you briefly explain the phases institutions go through when implementing the Playbook?
JF: The first phase is all about preparing your impact assessment, understanding what you want to achieve and helping to get key stakeholders on board. It’s a step-by-step guide for professionals in the cultural heritage sector, designed by professionals in the cultural heritage sector. We’re currently working on five case studies with partners from our network, and a task force that will help inform the second phase – focusing on data collection techniques – and our partners at DEN are researching examples of economic impact, sourcing examples from around the globe so that we can report back on how other methodologies work and what sort of results they deliver. We expect to release a beta Playbook version 2 in the second half of 2018, covering the data collection and assessment, narration and evaluation.

– What are the responses the Playbook received so far?
JF: The Playbook has been downloaded over 2,000 times since its launch. And the feedback received so far has been really positive. We’re  excited to see how people are using it – sometimes in ways we didn’t think of! From this, we’ve grown a community of over 200 cultural heritage professionals who share an interest in impact. And we’ve presented our work and the Playbook at conferences and workshops all over the world.

The most interesting feedback I get is about how what you get from the impact Playbook relates to the other business metrics generated. I think that’s something we need to work more on how we communicate. We’ve always seen impact assessment as providing an extra layer of context onto existing business information – it’s about taking our understanding of what we do, and how that brings about a change, one step further.  

– What are the lessons you have learned from developing the Impact Playbook?
JF: We certainly learned a lot – something I wrote extensively of shortly after we published the Playbook. But now, with the benefit of experience , I’d say the main lesson has been understanding  the value of testing extensively (something that is reinforced repeatedly). We tested every process, tool and workshop on ourselves (our colleagues and partners) until we felt it was robust enough to feature in the Playbook. Working iteratively was crucial, as was involving partners from the Europeana Network Association, which helped ensure we struck a good balance.  

Introducing: Impact Playbook

Europeana is always looking for people to get in touch and tell them about your experiences with the Playbook, so if you’ve used it, or want to share your experiences with impact – Europeana loves to hear from you! Contact them at: