Guest Blog: Cognitive Dissonance and Making an Impact

This guest blog was brought to you by ACOSVO member, and Director of Barnardo's Scotland, Martin Crewe, who discusses the tricky months ahead & why more than ever we need to be clear & focused on our mission.


In this blog I am going to try and pull together two trains of thought that have been on my mind for some time now.  The first is a feeling of cognitive dissonance.  This is a term for the state of discomfort felt when two or more modes of thought contradict each other.


I am struck by the number of positive developments at present in relation to Scotland’s children.  We have had the Care Review and the subsequent Promise commitments to really make a difference for some of the most disadvantaged children and young people, including increased investment in family support.  We have an increasing recognition of the need to support the mental health of children and young people with a growing emphasis on trauma-informed approaches.  At the same time we have some landmark legislation progressing on the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Equal Protection from Assault.


As well as all these areas of progress for children and young people, there is a real sense of determination within the Scottish voluntary sector to ‘build back better’ after the pandemic – not just return to how things were before the virus hit.


My problem, and the source of my cognitive dissonance, is around how we can achieve all this when there are so many challenges ahead.  The last few weeks have demonstrated very clearly that Covid-19 has not gone away and we also anticipate that the ending of the UK Government furlough scheme at the end of October will lead to a surge in unemployment, particularly among young people.  The additional costs of dealing with the virus have been huge for organisations whether private, public or third sector.  Many local authorities are already talking to us about reduced funding next year.


So how will this conundrum be resolved?  Will the Scottish Government have sufficient resources to achieve its ambitions? Or will the chill economic winds of the pandemic knock us all off course?


The answer to these questions will become apparent over the months ahead but charities cannot afford to wait passively in the meantime.  More than ever we need to focus on our core mission and how we can maximise our impact.


I have just completed the first year of a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) course at Edinburgh Napier University.  The focus for my research is the impact that charities achieve and the ways in which charity leaders can be most effective.


Unlike businesses where success can be described by the profits achieved, charities have many measures of impact.  If you asked a charity CEO what impact they are making then there are several different and legitimate responses they might make:

  • We provide great services
  • We influence government
  • We are efficient and reliable
  • We are innovative
  • We are close to our beneficiaries


With the opportunities and challenges we are going to face as charity leaders it is really important that we are clear on which impact narrative(s) we are focused on and how we can really contribute to ‘building back better’.

Martin Crewe


September 2020