What have we learned from 10 years of the SVA Quarterly?

When the then SVA Consulting Quarterly was launched in August 2012, its primary goal was – as it still is –  to share SVA’s knowledge with the sector to help create more impact by improving practice. 

We started with an idea

The consulting arm of SVA, founded in 2007, had been at the cutting edge of applying management consulting approaches to the social sector and was learning a lot. SVA Consulting’s executive director, Duncan Peppercorn, and consulting partner, Olivia (Liv) Hilton, were keen to codify these insights and share them with the sector – given SVA’s very purpose is to help the sector innovate and be more effective.  

Liv had also seen a gap in the publishing market in Australia – there was no vehicle for sharing case studies and new methodologies about what worked in strategy and measurement and evaluation in the social sector, whether in service provision or in funding approaches. 

Since that launch, and initially with the support of the Macquarie Group Foundation, 192 articles have been published under the SVA Quarterly masthead, generating total pageviews of close to 600,000. Since 2016, we have also published 56 podcasts of audio versions or interviews related to the articles which have been played 17,400 times. 

Meeting a need for practical insights

As editor, it has been heartening to see just how correct Duncan and Liv’s hypothesis was – that the sector would be hungry for these insights. It gives me great satisfaction to see and hear about the take up and use of articles within the sector. Whether it’s a massive spike in pageviews when we publish what turns out to be a much-needed article (e.g.  How to adopt an outcomes focused approach), or hearing from SVA staff about conversations with clients and partners about what they’re reading and learning, feedback from reader surveys, or myself meeting someone who is a regular reader – I relish hearing what it is that people have found useful.  

We’ve received appreciative feedback, such as ‘This was written to help people, not confuse them.’ Or ‘This is useful, it demystifies sometimes intimidating concepts.’ These types of comments hit at the core of what we wanted to achieve with the SVA Quarterly – actionable insights on creating social impact written by people on the ground, doing the work.  

Codifying innovation

SVA was founded to accelerate innovation in the social sector and help foster creative solutions to entrenched social issues. This means our work is often about testing new approaches or working in different ways. So, one of the unexpected benefits of the SVA Quarterly has been the discipline it has given us to codify our work and insights. When working in an emerging space, sometimes you don’t even realise what you have learnt until you try and write about it. Many an article forced the thinking, the clarifying of thought, that enabled the information to be useful, to us as well as to others.  

It takes time to do this. And many people have put time into making this possible on top of their ‘day jobs’. The fact that we now have a library of close to 200 social impact articles is thanks to their dedication.  

Sharing the lessons far and wide  

In addition to recording and codifying emerging best-practice, the SVA Quarterly has also allowed us to spread this knowledge beyond just our clients and partners. Over the years, SVA Quarterly articles have been (and still are) used as course material in a range of relevant university degrees, from social impact topics to even a health care design course. They also get picked up and distributed by many others in the sector who wish to share the learning, such as the NonProfit Alliance or the Analysis & Policy Observatory, or in other publications such as The Conversation, or Pro Bono news. 

A decade of growth and learning

Over its time, the SVA Quarterly has covered the issues that people are grappling with, as seen in the early articles on how to manage consultation in strategy development, governance challenges in not for profits and key features of a healthy board; the foundation articles on program logic, and social return on investment – that overtime have become a library about the development of measurement and evaluation of social impact; and the growing maturity of the philanthropic world as it has wrestled with whom and how it funds.  

We’ve chartered the rise of (social) impact investing and what the then nascent market needed. With our staff having been deeply involved in the first and subsequently eight bonds, we have published some of the most insightful articles on social impact bonds in Australia.  

We’ve covered collective impact, shared value, and the massive impact that the introduction of the NDIS has had on service providers as they’ve had to become more customer-centred; whether that was through mergers or strategy refreshes. We’ve shared our work with First Nations organisations and communities as we’ve strived to better understand reconciliation and how evaluation can better recognise self-determination. More recently we’ve been covering questions about the non-profit sector itself – how it is funded, what is expected, the vulnerabilities that Covid revealed and what is needed to strengthen it. 

The number one question I’m asked as editor…

I’m always asked which are the most popular articles. So, on the occasion of our 10th birthday, I’m sharing them with you here as a record. Since the publication was rebranded from the SVA Consulting Quarterly to the SVA Quarterly in late 2015, to better reflect that its content included work from across the organisation, the top 10 articles have been:  

  1. Seven steps to effective advocacy 
  2. How to adopt an outcomes focused approach (part 1) 
  3. Finding the golden thread a new approach to articulating program logic statements 
  4. Managing to outcomes: what, why and how 
  5. New model financing affordable housing 
  6. Implementation science: what is it? 
  7. Effective ways to support youth into employment 
  8. Is your program suitable for a social impact bond? 
  9. How disability providers can become more customer-centric 
  10. A guide to social impact measurement.

A group endeavour

As I mentioned, SVA Quarterly articles are written by staff who draft them on top of their already busy workloads. So first and foremost, I want to thank all the authors who contributed to these articles over the years – most are SVA staff but also a fair few are friends of SVA. This repository of learning wouldn’t exist without your hard work.  

I also want to thank the Macquarie Group Foundation who recognised the idea’s potential and funded the first three years. A thank you to Olivia Hilton and Duncan Peppercorn who launched the publication and directed the first years of content, to journalist and editor James Kirby who provided guidance in the early years, to all members of the editorial committee and, of course, to you the reader who takes this knowledge and makes it powerful by using it to create impact in the world. 

Your mission now, by way of celebrating our 10th year, is to help spread great practice by sharing the SVA Quarterly with your  networks. It could be one of your favourite articles, or simply the home site: www.socialventures.com.au/sva-quarterly/ 

Thank you everyone for your support – and happy birthday to the Q! 


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