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Ambition Progress Indicators - the story so far (a lot can happen in a year…)

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[Editor’s note: this is the final post from Nick Partridge, Service Manager for Sheffield Libraries and Archives, who spent a year on secondment with the Taskforce. It covers the work he was doing on Progress Indicators - and includes a request for feedback]

Was it only 12 months ago that I started my secondment with the Libraries Taskforce? Released one day a week from my ‘day job’ as service manager for Sheffield Libraries and Archives service back in May 2016, I was wondering what I had let myself in for. Previous secondees to the Taskforce had said to me it was like jumping on a moving train: get ready for the acceleration and headwinds. They were right. As in life, most intense experiences you have you probably wouldn’t have asked for (oh, I forgot, I did!) but, afterwards, you are so pleased you had them.

And what a year it was! Not one but two changes of ministers, election 1, referendum, knock on delays as a result in the internal workings of government, election 2 - and still the team supporting the Libraries Taskforce managed massive progress in creating a strategic roadmap for public libraries in England by publishing ‘Libraries Deliver: Ambition’ last December. Plus running an enormous number of events themselves and attending libraries forums as speakers and facilitators. They certainly ‘deliver’. My respect for Kathy and the team has grown enormously from being up close and seeing the daily challenges they face.

What was my challenge?

My role was primarily to come up with proposals for the set of Progress Indicators (PIs) to demonstrate how, as a sector, we are making headway in achieving our aspirations for 2021 against each of the 7 Outcomes defined in Ambition. This is action 3 in the Ambition action plan - to establish current baselines and agree progress indicators for all 7 Outcomes and publish them.

As a reminder, and by way of example, the aspirations we set for Outcome 1 - Cultural and creative enrichment - were that success in 2021 would be that:

  • more people (children and adults) have access to cultural experiences and events through libraries (especially from disadvantaged backgrounds)
  • people see libraries as local creative hubs where exploration, experimentation, pursuing of cultural interests, and making are encouraged, and
  • libraries are seen as active partners with professional and amateur cultural and arts organisations to provide cultural experiences and activities within libraries

It was initially suggested that we’d look at things like:

  • what people say about the role their library plays in enriching their lives and increasing their happiness and wellbeing through developing its cultural offering
  • how libraries have extended or enhanced their partnerships with arts and cultural organisations to increase people’s access to, and participation in, a wider range of cultural events and experiences

in order to measure progress against these ambitions, but we knew that these initial thoughts would need more work - and that has been my focus this year.

How did I do it?

During the initial consultation on the Ambition document, there was a very strong view that more outcome-focused measures of impact should be established (as opposed to measures that were predominantly input-and activity- based). But although people told us what they didn’t want to see, there were only a few alternative progress indicators suggested.

I started off looking at other library outcome frameworks from around the world and mapping them against our 7 Outcomes, hoping that I would find someone had cracked it already. No luck! But, in line with what we wanted, there was a consistent move away from activity counting to outcome or impact measures.

Consulting with the Taskforce member organisations and with colleagues in SCL, we started to boil down to a set of outcome related indicators, and looked for robust measures (quantitative as well as qualitative) to track progress against them.

What did I come up with?

A draft set of PIs has now been agreed with the Taskforce, so the next step is to finalise definitions, and decide on a practical way to collect the data required.

We’ll aim to minimise data collection burdens on busy services wherever possible. Where we can, we’ll ‘baseline’ against existing measures. Where they don’t exist, we’ll need to develop mechanisms for data collection that the sector agrees are feasible and worth putting the effort in to use (for example, some PIs will involve surveys of Heads of Library services, partners and users of libraries, which we will need to revisit annually). This links to the wider work the Taskforce team has been doing on a core dataset for public libraries.

From doing this work, we also recognised that a better qualitative evidence base will be needed to help measure the impact of library services. As part of the Taskforce’s work on research needed by the sector, we’ve identified where further qualitative research related to the 7 Outcomes might be undertaken on a national basis that could then be reliably extrapolated for use at regional or local levels.

So, still quite a lot of effort to put in - but once we’ve got our systems up and running and we’ve built a set of comparable data which helps us to compare and test ourselves against, we can use it to advocate for libraries, demonstrate the real impact our services have on people’s lives, and show that we use our (limited) resources effectively.

The Outcomes Progress Indicators I came up with are here; as I mentioned, I’ve been testing them across the sector, and with partners such as commissioners, to see if they come across as useful and meaningful. But before the Taskforce finally publishes them formally, we’d appreciate your feedback. If you have any comments to make, please use this form to feed back to the Taskforce team. The survey will close at midday on Monday 11 September. If you’re having trouble accessing this form please email us at

And my personal impressions?

My service wanted to know what I got out of the secondment experience, besides a day away from the office most weeks (funny how the emails never answered themselves on those days!). I certainly have a lot of admiration for the Taskforce team (special mention to Sheila ‘Get it over the line!’ Bennett, my ‘handler’ in the team) - so knowing how hard they work and the way they face up to challenges inspires me to do and expect the same of myself and my service.

I wanted to build my knowledge about the library sector (being a relative newbie) - and the overviews I gained will definitely help me operating as Sheffield’s public libraries Service Manager. I was also able to relate back to Taskforce and DCMS colleagues just how tough it is sometimes working in a financially and resource strapped public library service.

I hoped to be able to raise the profile of my service, and of Sheffield as a city wanting to play its part in creating a sustainable public library sector. Time will tell if I have, but I also now see many more opportunities for my service. Knowing the ‘language’ of Ambition has equipped me to go into battle locally over resources and talk outcomes (Public Health watch out!). I’ve got more confidence to do so with the conviction that I know the value of my service, what it does for people, and that we have a strategy to follow and PI’s to back up our ambitions.

I would certainly recommend to anyone up for a challenge and a bit of self-development that a secondment working with the Taskforce is a fantastic opportunity. [Editor’s note: if anyone is interested in a secondment with the Taskforce team, either on a short or longer-term placement, do let us know on]


Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce

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