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Demoing how benchmarking with Improve can work and what it can offer

Man standing at podium

On the eve of the 2017 Spring conference, along with other members of Socitm’s hardworking staff, Matthew Fraser had a chance meeting with Gary Lineker

Matthew Fraser writes:

I say “chance”, but I think someone hustled him into a selfie on his way back from the bathroom!

Clearly some of Gary’s stardust rubbed off on me that evening. The next day I recall thinking that events like these would be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of our benchmarking service to a large audience through a live demo. 
Such dreams however were quickly put on the back burner for a number of reasons:

  • For starters, while we had recently begun using a new data visualisation platform, I wasn’t convinced we could manipulate the data quickly enough for a live demo. 
  • Secondly, there was my own reluctance to speak to an audience of strangers under anything other than the most controlled of circumstances. 
  • Finally, there was the simple fact that nobody had asked me to speak!

But, over the past two years, each of these obstacles has been overcome.  

 The technical element was the first to be resolved.  Having moved to delivering our benchmarking reports through Microsoft PowerBI, we now had a way of refreshing data (almost) instantly. So in theory I could ask an audience to answer a couple of questions via a webform and then discuss the results immediately. 


Next came the invitation to speak. Initially this came via a request to step into a last minute cancellation in the Share National: Covid Recovery conference in September 2021.  The upside of anything last minute is that expectations are kept low. It also allows very little time to become anxious.  The downside was that I didn’t have time to prepare the type of session I had imagined back in 2017. So I relied on material I had previously discussed at our Improve workshops. 

Of course, even if I had time to prepare fully, I was probably still not ready to embrace the idea of conducting a discussion around data. Not with without first having spent several hours mulling it over. That personal breakthrough came about from a chance conversation during one of Socitm’s How to be an effective coach courses. 


 As part of the final session, I had to think of something I wanted to work on in order to allow a fellow participant to practice their coaching skills.  Short on time to think of something, I blurted out “wanting to be more comfortable in uncontrolled settings … particularly workshops”.  Although only a short conversation, it must have had a good effect. When offered a slot at the President’s Conference in Cardiff, I grabbed the opportunity to finally carry out my mock benchmarking exercise. 

 The outline for the session would highlight the three key elements found within our Improve service: 

  1. A survey: Just six questions completed by the audience. 
  1. A report: Anonymous charts of the results. 
  1. A workshop: A short discussion of both the results and how they could be used. 


With the technical details prepared and tested, plus a couple of willing volunteers to lead the workshop discussion, I made the journey to Wales full of confidence.  A confidence which, upon arriving, quickly evaporated! 
With this being our first in-person conference in over two years, I had been a bit apprehensive that we would not have enough attendees to provide a useful benchmark.  That particular worry was soon removed. We had well over 150 in attendance, and the room was buzzing with anticipation. 
The size of the room didn’t concern me too much.  In my life outside Socitm I regularly speak in front of large audiences. And once even in front of over 7,000 people (that is probably a story for another blog!). But I always know exactly what I am going to say, and I practice extensively.  As the morning progressed the weight of knowing I had over twenty minutes of “unknown material” began to build. 


I’m not proud to admit this, but at this point I began to hope that one of my fellow speakers would have a terrible time!  Maybe their presentation would break or they would just be extremely dull; anything to relieve the pressure. But of course, the opposite was true. Each speaker was engaging and informative. Which, of course, from my experience at previous Socitm events, shouldn’t have been a surprise. 
As it turns out, all that worry and anxiety was unnecessary. The technology all worked, and the attendees quickly got into the spirit of the session and provided some excellent data to work with.  In fact, the data is so good, it will be likely make its way into this year’s Improve annual report. Look out for it in the coming months. From the moment I stepped on stage, I really enjoyed the whole experience. 
Now, if you have ever joined one of our Improve workshops, you will know that while the data identifies the topics to be discussed, it is the collective experience of participants that adds the context and provides the insight.  So, I would particularly like to thank Jo Harley and Glyn Peach. They exemplified this benefit when they joined me to discuss the results. 

Lauren Mitchell and Gary Linekar – hustled into a selfie. Not appearing in the photograph, blog author Matthew Fraser.

Thinking back to those thirty seconds I spent with Gary Lineker, I suppose I now need to come up with a goal to be reached by 2027.  Hopefully a chance meeting with another celebrity will provide inspiration.