How to achieve scale and impact

With operations in 11 areas across the country, we’ve been very successful at not only at scaling up, but also having a real impact on people’s lives. Here’s how we’ve done it.
Class Meal

Our detailed statistics and evaluation of our 4,000 participants is hard to beat. Our pile of forms is three feet high. Luckily, our spreadsheets are in the computer; unfolded, they may cover the area of my house. Bags of Taste was always built to scale.

When our volunteer web designer found out she needed to amend the website to accommodate a blog, she was excited. “You’re a great storyteller,” she said. “I used to love reading your blogs.” It’s true that I’ve made my career, mostly in the private sector, on telling stories. She’s known me a long time.

But when I started working in the not for profit sector, I balked. This was an area, I observed, where it was all about the stories. I could see projects that had some great stories, and a high level of impact on a few people – but very limited scale.

And if I was going to do this, I was interested in scale of impact. I didn’t want to be a person telling a good story but with high costs and limited social value for money. I’d done quite enough of that in my previous career. So I focused on numbers and scale.

Built to scale

Our detailed statistics and evaluation of our 4,000 participants is hard to beat. Our pile of forms is three feet high. Luckily, our spreadsheets are in the computer; unfolded, they may cover the area of my house. Bags of Taste was always built to scale.

From the beginning we did things that made no economic sense unless we were going to be more than one small project in Hackney. We invested in systems and resources, like the digital resources that stand us now in such good stead during coronavirus, which made no ‘sense’ at the time.

Perhaps I went too far with obsessing with these numbers, and steered away from stories. I think I probably did. So when my esteemed colleagues told me I had to start blogging, I was inexplicably resistant. Perhaps they thought I didn’t know how. So here goes.

Replicability is the key to scaling. Yet so many interventions are small scale and highly personalised; it takes enormously tailored, intensive interactions to effect change in people who need a high degree of support. We should know.

So how do we achieve this demonstrated ability to scale, AND have impact? With now 11 branches across the country, we’ve been very successful at this. It warms my heart when I see data and feedback from Sheffield and Hastings, and see people expressing almost identical sentiments, and almost identical performance statistics.

I think it comes down to providing two layers to our project: the programme itself, and personalised interventions at a local level.

Standardised programme

The first, highly standardised, layer, is the programme itself. This is comprehensive, thorough, and has been developed with careful testing. We understand from our extensive work the many barriers that our participants face, and we tackle them all.

There are so many barriers that we’ve identified. No participant (I hope) has all of these problems. But they all have some combination of them, including:

  • Ability. Some can’t cook, most can, so we need to teach them all.
  • Money. 99% have financial issues.
  • Access. Some have food access issues, still others (many) are short of equipment, so we sell it to them at wholesale prices they can afford.

For more detail on the barriers we’ve identified, click here

In being this comprehensive, we can be sure to provide the barrier-busting resources that are required for every individual.

Personalised interventions

Then comes the localised part. Just as important as the first part, this is the part that so many great projects get right. People don’t change because you intervened on them. They change because they’re inspired, because you built their confidence, because you – anyone – cared.

This is the part that we need the personal connection to do, and is primarily done by our amazing volunteers. In both our traditional and mentored virtual courses, this is where the magic happens.

One person takes the time with a small group of three, to commit to getting them through cooking those recipes. In our traditional courses that’s very often a peer mentor. It’s at this personal level that you can see and adjust the messages: cajoling, encouraging, teasing, prodding – even begging – and generally doing whatever it takes to get that participant through not just cooking those recipes, but changing how they cook at home. They build upon the solid foundations of the programme itself – and take it to new heights.

This is the strength of Bags of Taste – that we’re able to combine these two approaches into a highly replicable, but also highly personalised, intervention.

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