I’ve been seeing a lot about Return On Investment (ROI) for a while now. It used to be a phrase you heard in relation to investment in plant and equipment, or training, more recently applied to things like social media and communications. Today I saw this article heading: “Design – are you getting ROI?”.
This is getting annoying. No matter what you do, there’s a freelance consultant somewhere who can sell you a sure fire method for ensuring you’re getting ROI. How about this: is it a good thing to do? Some things can’t be measured, you know, they can’t be quantified and especially not in terms of money or repeat business.
Take something like the Youth Service, which is having to look at ways to reduce its budget. If a young person’s life is going badly and they need support, then giving that support costs money. There are the usual overheads, running premises and paying staff; there will be expenses around each individual being supported relating to their specific situation and the additional things being done to help them. We know that there is a monetary cost attached to a young person who ends up in the justice system – the value lost if they don’t get into work and contribute to the economy, and the incurred costs of processing them through courts and institutions, monitoring and tracking their behaviour and so on. It’s evident that the cost of keeping someone out of that system is much, much cheaper than the later cost of processing them through it, by some significant factor that I forget.
By now you may have learned enough about me to wonder why I don’t remember important stats like this. Simple: because I don’t think they’re important.
That’s right. I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s a factor of 10, a factor of 100, or a factor of 1.035. Somebody else cares about these numbers, because they are supposed to work out if something is economically sound, but I don’t. What I care about is, this is the right thing to do. Keeping young people out of the criminal justice system, giving them safe places to be and developing their self belief is the right thing to do. If this cost more than the alternative, I would want to know if we could do it more effectively more cheaply, but I would never say we shouldn’t bother. Because it’s the right thing to do.
While we’re at it, the same applies to social care for the elderly, investment in education, support for parents in the early years … and it also applies to things like using social media. Talking to our customers and listening to their views and concerns is also the right thing to do. Failing to be present to hear this feedback is poor practice. Claiming to be willing to listen while ignoring 80% of feedback through the most-used channels is disingenuous. We should be where the conversations are happening, because it’s the right thing to do.
And that’s where we also find out, while we’re busy doing the right thing, whether we’re also doing it right.