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Long Trousers


Substance is 10 years old this year. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed the party (that comes later) but in the meantime we are having a bit of a spring clean…

When we set up back in 2005 I was also in the middle of trying to move house and preparing for the imminent arrival of a second child which, according to the Holmes – Rahe Stress Inventory, meant I was facing something like an 80% chance of having a major stress induced health breakdown! Fortunately, as far as I’m aware, that never occurred but it’s probably safe to say that my contribution to our business planning at that time wasn’t straight out of the Harvard Business School model!

Much like playtime at primary school it’s obviously an exciting moment when you create a new venture, particularly when it’s a collaborative exercise like ours which, for the founders, also marked a break from academia and the bureaucratic frustrations of contemporary University structures. So whilst we weren’t exactly kids in a sweetshop, more than one observer did draw some wry parallels with the sometimes chaotic, idealized enthusiasm of the now defunct Factory Records!

Of course our story is in truth far more mundane than those legends of Manchester’s music scene. Whilst, like a lot of the organisations we work with, we wanted to change the world, our drivers came from a desire to make research, evaluation and understanding of how to address social problems more accessible. We wanted to escape the ivory towers of academic institutions in order to democratize the process of knowledge acquisition and improve the way services are commissioned and delivered. We weren’t interested in how many people cited our publications; we wanted our clients to act on them and even write their own. We wanted to help organisations that do good, think smarter!

In the midst of working out how to do that, finding somewhere to live, learning about how to develop software, navigating government procurement processes and generally putting ourselves on the map, the business structure and processes seemed a little peripheral. Unfortunately, a bit like my starry eyed newborn sucking his toys and playing with his food, that’s how we ended up with a website domain name that sounds like a pigeon’s home; a company number that most banking systems won’t create an account for; and a governance structure that wouldn’t allow us to grow our team in the way we wanted.

That’s why we recently made the collective decision to become an employee owned and managed company rather than sticking with the original but rather restrictive co-operative structure. More importantly this has in turn enabled us to attract investment and expertise at a strategic level and to bring our team of technical developers in house so we can further develop Views, other software products and a shiny new website with a rather more recognised domain!

Now that playtime is over and we’ve popped the long trousers on, with a core team of 15 talented staff, over 2 million participant records in Views, 10 years learning about what works in programme design and impact measurement we have a clear plan for growth. We hope that many of the organisations we work with, the early adopters of our technology and those that really recognise the importance of collecting, managing, analysing and reporting data will benefit, as we champion their practice and refine our tools and services to give them the knowledge and insight they need to do what they do, better.