Community as a project legacy

With London 2012 still fresh in our memories, it’s good to see the spectacular venues being used to host athletics, Rugby World Cup matches, swimming championships, local sports clubs, Premiership football, and world class events.  This is the project legacy that was so important in the original bid, and continues to be a priority for the IOC as they  try to ensure that the economic benefit of each Olympic Games is not lost after the event.

Project legacy is also of the highest importance to every funding provider.  SMEs will be used to the questions when completing applications for grant and loan funding: How many jobs will be safeguarded?  How many jobs will be created?  This is the most basic measure of the legacy from small pots of funding aimed at growing businesses.  It’s a performance indicator which tells the funding body that thanks to their help, the small companies that make up the backbone of the economy are still there and are thriving.  But what about the projects which bring together members to build collaboration, co-operation, innovation, and ultimately profitability and economic wealth. When the project ends and the funding dries up, how can you prove that a legacy remains?

A mature community is its own legacy

Hub network smallCommunities matter because they help to achieve many business goals more efficiently than transactional approaches.(1)  Until now, many such projects have relied upon resources at the hub managing a group of participants, with networking events and direct introductions.  Once the hub resources are no longer in place, the network disintegrates.

NetworkTopology-FullyConnectedHowever, if the project focuses on building a fully connected network – a true community – this changes the role of the central resource.  Once the project is over the central hub can diminish without damaging the relationships and synergies that have developed.  The Community Roundtable’s Community Maturity Model can help bidders understand, plan for, and assess performance through Hierarchy (forming), Emergent Community (storming), Community (norming) and Networked (performing).  Moving through these stages to achieve a Performing community  – the legacy of the project – requires commitment and strategic buy-in at the start, making the formation and management of the community a core part of the bid.

Proving sustainability post-project

Now that the dust is settling over the UK’s general election, business leaders are focusing on the next round of bids for European Regional Development Funding.  Project legacy and sustainability is a prerequisite.    ERDF guidance asks applicants to:  Describe how the project will continue once ERDF investment ends. If the project has a finite lifetime state this.  If not, explain the steps that will be taken to ensure the project is sustained in some way.  If there are any assets associated with the project, explain what they are and confirm that they will continue to be used for the purpose for which ERDF is being provided.  Explain how the applicant organisation will continue to meet monitoring and reporting requirements after the end of funding period.

Measuring engagement in a collaborative project is difficult, but not impossible.  Classic ROI models – investment in, money out – ignore behavioural returns.  Looking at community purely as an input towards an output misses the way that communities generate compounding value.  Behavioural change, not monetary value, is the key performance indicator.  This is where an online community tool (such as Ambix) demonstrates its value.  Ambix provides an online focus for the community as it grows, but also generates considerable data about the engagement activity of the community.  During the project, this data helps to assess the stage of development of the community and demonstrate changes in behaviour as participants cautiously engage with the community, and then start to collaborate with fellow members.  Post-project, the same data can be used to evidence sustainability, meeting monitoring and reporting requirements.

(1) The Community Roundtable