The practice of change

By now we are all familiar with the term ‘theory of change’—the idea that charities and social enterprises should have a theory behind their work. It’s no surprise then that the past decade has seen a huge increase in the number of organisations using this approach.

It is a tremendous tool for the sector, one that helps guide strategy and evaluation to see an overall improvement in impact. And yet, in the midst of this vogue for theories, are we focusing enough attention on the other side of the coin—the practice of change?

A solid theory will have little impact if not effectively implemented. So how do we put theories into practice? What guidance is there to help us change our organisations as a result of what we have learnt? How can we plan better interventions, and better ways of delivering them?

To answer these questions the Inspiring Impact coalition brought together a working group to discuss our challenges and ambitions in the practice of change. We were a diverse collection of people—representing behemoth to tiny organisations that work across a range of sectors including health, rights, and international development, and engage in activities from direct delivery of services to advocacy and everything in between.

At first glance it would appear our experiences had little in common. However, it soon became apparent that we grappled with the similar issue of how to make our impact strategy work in a very practical sense.

Our different organisations use theory of change in very different ways. London Youth has developed theories of change for each of its individual programmes, as well as having a core theory for the organisation as a whole. Safe Ground develops its planned impact with funders, sometimes before putting a bid in, to make sure it has an open and two-way conversation about the changes it wants to create and how. Citizens Advice has expanded its approach to look at how the organisation’s policy, campaigning activities, volunteer opportunities and education work all create social value, as well as the outcomes of advice itself.

At my organisation, Student Hubs, implementing our theory of change was largely a question of collecting the right data. We are lucky that our theory has been in place more or less since we were founded, seven years ago. However, collecting quantitative and qualitative data consistently across a network of five offices, ten universities, 25,000 students, six programmes and over 100 projects, turns out to be no small feat. And making sure this data collection doesn’t detract from our students’ experiences or tie up our staff in elaborate bureaucratic systems has been one of our biggest challenges.

For us, the practice of change has meant developing a fully automatic system that captures data at every stage of a student’s journey, so we can test which interventions make the greatest difference and track our impact over time and in different locations. Ultimately, we want to be able to better understand the social issue we address—student social action—and knowing how our activities impact it is the first step. You can read more about our experiences, and those of the other working group participants, in the ‘Putting “The Code” into Practice’ report.

The concept of a theory of change has been a revelation for the sector, but now it’s time to focus on the practice of change. To really tackle social issues we need change to happen within our organisations, as well as in society at large.

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We’ve come a long way

II toolsIn the summer of 2011, a group of people started planning to work together to help the UK social sector make progress on impact measurement. We were concerned about fragmentation in our approaches, and believed we would achieve more if we coordinated our efforts.

We envisaged a world in which charities and social enterprises would have a clear idea what good impact measurement practice looked like. In this world, organisations would be able to assess themselves against good practice, and identify the tools and resources they needed to make progress. And finally they’d compare their practice with others in their field to learn, and accelerate their progress.

NPC and Substance came together to organise and facilitate an impact ‘summit’ in September 2011, to see if we could establish a collective vision. Out of this summit came a report—thanks to the support of Joe Ludlow at Nesta. It identified five priority areas in which work was needed—on leadership and culture; shared measurement; data, tools and systems; funders, commissioners and investors; and impact measurement support. It also introduced the idea of a cycle of impact practice—how organisations plan, manage, measure, and review their social impact. Out of this report grew the Inspiring Impact programme.

Fast forward nearly three years, and I’m delighted that Inspiring Impact is today launching two important new elements of that original vision.

Measuring Up! is an online tool designed by the Charities Evaluation Services and developed by Substance. It helps organisations to work out how they’re doing against good impact practice. It’s built around the structure of the Code of Good Impact Practice, developed by NCVO through extensive consultation with the sector last year.

The tool is practical, accessible, and makes it easy for organisations to get to grips with the key elements of their impact practice. It’s had rave reviews in testing, and we can’t wait to see how it’s received now it’s available to all—for free.

The Inspiring Impact Hub is an online resource centre for everything you might need to improve your impact practice. If you need guidance on what a theory of change is, you’ll find it there. If you’re looking for software that can help you capture data in your everyday work, you’ll find it in the Hub. And if you’re looking for ways to measure a specific outcome, say well-being, you’ll find it there. Again, it’s all free for everyone to use, and free for tool and resource providers to feature their materials.

The Hub launches with over 200 tools, systems and resources catalogued and accessible to all. But that’s just the start—we want evaluators, tool providers, and others who have developed resources or are aware of other resources to upload them to the Hub. And users can review the tools they’ve used, so everyone gets the benefit of their experience.

Of course there are limits to what online resources on their own can do. We need the concerted efforts of a group of committed partners, and the enthusiasm of others, to embrace them and to help spread the word.

If grant-makers, social investors and commissioners who want social sector organisations to provide good impact data embed these resources in their practice, we’ll build critical mass as people start to explore, use and add to Inspiring Impact. And if those funders also supply their grantees and investees with the financial support needed to build capacity, the dial may really start to shift.

Through the coordination of the Association of Charitable Foundations, a group of funders has already started to get to grips with putting these resources into practice. Inspiring Impact programmes in Scotland (through Evaluation Support Scotland) and Northern Ireland (through Building Change Trust and CENI) are getting the message out far and wide. And NCVO and ACEVO are working with their members to help advance their impact practice.

Join us in building on these foundations—upload tools, share these resources, build them into your work. Together, we can raise the bar on impact practice in the social sector.

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The journey to employment continues

It’s been quite a journey. Ever since we launched the first version of The Journey to EmploymenT (JET) framework in May last year, we’ve been inundated with interest from youth organisations using it to measure their impact.

The JET framework is part of NPC and Inspiring Impact’s work on shared measurement and looks specifically at shared outcomes in the youth employability sector. These outcomes include emotional capabilities, like self-esteem, grit and determination, as well as harder outcomes like qualifications and training, and of course finding and sustaining good quality employment.

Over the past year, we’ve been busy holding roundtables, talking to experts and piloting the framework with a range of organisations—Acknowledging Youths, Blackpool Council, Cambridge House, East London Business Alliance (ELBA), Fluency and vInspired. Today we launch an refreshed version, incorporating new outcomes and measures based on feedback from these different activities.

At NPC we know measuring impact can be tricky, but the response we’ve had to JET shows there’s a real appetite for better impact practice, and that the JET framework and guidance can help overcome some of the challenges. As Beatriz Dominguez, Children’s and Adults’ Services Manager at Cambridge House, explains: ‘Measuring and evaluating the impact of your work is by no means straightforward, but using JET has really helped.’

The flexibility of the framework is an aspect many have commented on. Sinead Mac Manus, founder and CEO of Fluency, one of the pilots, said the framework is ‘comprehensive and covered all, and more than, we had thought of. It’s modular, so we could pick and choose the elements most relevant to our work.’ Once organisations have developed a clear theory of change, they can identify their outcomes in JET and use the corresponding scales to measure their impact.

It doesn’t stop there; we want organisations to compare with and learn from others, and build the evidence base for what works. Some are already anticipating the effects. Rebecca Graham, Impact Co-ordinator at the large volunteering charity vInspired, said ‘the framework has minimised the effort we need to put in to get results, and I’m really looking forward to learning from what we find. Lots of organisations will be using the same measures as us, so we can begin to share our data with others and find out about what types of interventions are working.’

Now that the updated JET framework has been launched, we’d like to see more organisations taking it up so it can support the youth employability sector as a whole to improve measurement.

Access all you need on our website: the framework to enable you, The JET Pack to guide you, and case studies to inspire you. And please do get in touch on Twitter or via the LinkedIn page—we’ve got plans to make the JET framework available online, so organisations can pick their outcomes and administer surveys at the click of a few buttons. We want to know who you are, so we can keep you up to date!

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Inspiring Impact launches in Northern Ireland

CENI Inspiring Impact 30Today (Wednesday 19 March 2014) saw the launch of the Inspiring Impact NI Programme – an ambitious NI wide initiative that aims to change the way voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations and their funders think about impact and to put impact practice at the heart of their work by 2022.

Held in the Mac, Belfast, the event was attended by over 60 delegates from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors; as well as government, funders, academics and impact practitioners.

Inspiring Impact NI believes the difference an organisation makes is what’s important and is providing the knowledge and support for Northern Ireland’s community, voluntary and social enterprise organisations to consider, plan, measure and demonstrate the difference they make and to use impact information for learning and continual improvement.

The programme for Northern Ireland is linked to the UK wide Inspiring Impact Programme which is a coalition of some leading third sector organisations across the UK.

The Building Change Trust, as the Northern Ireland partner on the UK board, has committed £500,000 matched by a further £188,000 from the Department for Social Development, to deliver an initial two year programme of work which will support VCSE organisations and their funders to better understand and embrace impact practice.

Building Change Trust Director, Julie Harrison said: ‘The Trust is delighted to have made a significant investment in this initiative, which is ultimately about enabling community and voluntary organisations in NI, and their funders, to make more of a difference to the people and places they serve.’

Roy McGivern, Department for Social Development commented:

‘The Department is pleased to support the Inspiring Impact initiative in Northern Ireland. Its successful delivery can enable us to meet one of the key commitments in the Concordat between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector to implement an outcome-focused approach to funding.

‘It is vital that we can demonstrate the value of investments made in voluntary and community sector activity and to embed this approach across the public sector.’

Community Evaluation NI (CENI) has been commissioned as the Trust’s strategic partner to support the development and delivery of the Programme.

Speaking at the launch, Brendan McDonnell, CENI Director and Aongus O’Keeffe, Inspiring Impact NI Programme Leader, presented an overview of the Inspiring Impact NI Programme 2014-15.

In addition, products to support impact practice currently in development by partner organisations from Inspiring Impact UK were demonstrated. Gladys Swanton, CENI, presented ‘The Code of Good Impact Practice’ which defines and explains impact practice. Sam Matthews, CES UK explained ‘Measuring Up’ – an online tool to help organisations assess where they fit in terms of impact practice; and Tim Crabbe, Substance showcased an online  ‘Resource Finder’ designed to assist organisations find information on a wide range of impact tools currently available.

Speaking at the launch Aongus O’Keeffe, Inspiring Impact NI Programme Leader said: ‘I am delighted to see the Inspiring Impact NI Programme being launched today – this has been the result of an extensive consultation exercise across the sector to identify how best to build on the work of Inspiring Impact UK and put it into practice in Northern Ireland.

‘Inspiring Impact NI aims to promote a holistic approach that is about supporting organisations and funders to plan for impact, learn from and use impact data to effect change.’

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Inspiring Impact in Wales

Cym Code of Good Impact PracticeThe Inspiring Impact team have been busy this year, making sure charities and funders across the UK have plenty of opportunities to engage with the programme.

As a partnership of membership bodies—NCVO , ACEVO, ACF and the WCVA—and  measurement and evaluation experts—NPC , CES, ESS, CENI, BCT and Substance—we  have a big and exciting vision: to make high quality impact measurement the norm in the non-profit sector by 2022.

We’ve certainly got our work cut out. But with a range of tools and advice already on our website, and more underway, we proceed undaunted!

One thing’s for sure: access to good resources is imperative for organisations wishing to improve their impact practice. And getting the message out there is something we’ve been having great success on—sparking debate on LinkedIn, making connections on Twitter, and getting mentions from Nick Hurd and Dawn Austwick from the Big Lottery in the latest Charity Times magazine.

And to add to our list of recent developments, I am very pleased to announce that the Code of Good Impact Practice has been gyfieithu i’r Gymraeg (that’s ‘translated into Welsh’, in Welsh).

The Code is a keystone document for those working in the impact space—produced  for the sector and by the sector—and outlines what good impact practice is, and how organisations can foster, develop and encourage better impact reporting.

If you’re a welsh charity, funder or social enterprise, you can access the translated Code of Good Impact Practice through the Inspiring Impact website. We’re also working closely with the WCVA to make sure the Code reaches everyone who might benefit from it.

It’s great to see the programme developing as a truly UK-wide venture. Speaking of which, keep your eyes peeled for more news from Inspiring Impact Northern Ireland, launching formally this month.

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Inspiring Impact looks forward

Inspiring impact looks forwardsThe Inspiring Impact programme continues to work hard to change the way the UK voluntary sector thinks about impact. Managed and delivered by eight organisations, including membership bodies and measurement and evaluation experts, the aim of the programme is to make high-quality impact reporting the norm for charities and social enterprises by 2022.

As you can imagine, we wait with bated breath for NPC’s Impact Leadership conference where we’ll be showcasing our latest resources and meeting others who agree that making an impact is just about the most important thing that charities, social enterprises and funders can do.

Now in its second year, here’s a quick recap about the programme and our upcoming plans.


NVCO co-leads Inspiring Impact’s Leadership strand. After a long consultation with the sector, NCVO produced theCode of Good Impact Practice in June last year. The response has been fantastic: many charities have signed-up to support the Code, and it’s been incorporated into impact training delivered by measurement and evaluation experts all over.

NCVO is currently:

  • organising targeted forums for organisations who are working to improve their impact practice;
  • working on a report to share the learning from these forums with the sector;
  • promoting Inspiring Impact at the Big Assist, NCVO’s trustee conference and NCVO’s sustainable funding conference; and
  • delivering training sessions on impact.


ACEVO co-lead Inspiring Impact’s Leadership strand,  producing ‘Are you leading for impact?’ last year. The guide explains why leaders should improve their impact practice, alongside case studies of those  already working to plan, understand and improve the impact they have.

ACEVO’s current activities include:

  • Action Learning Sets in the north of England;
  • an Inspiring Impact session at the ACEVO annual conference; and
  • promoting the products of the Inspiring Impact programme to its members.


ESS leads the Inspiring Impact programme in Scotland. In the first year, ESS released a Good Practice Case Study Report of three organisations in Scotland with pioneering approaches to impact measurement, supplemented by a series of events to raise the profile of the programme in Scotland. ESS also organised an Inspiring Impact workshop at the Gathering, the largest third-sector conference in Scotland.

The current activities of ESS include:

  • running an event with ACOSVO for chief officers to further generate debate and interest in impact leadership;
  • releasing a report on how funders and charities measure their impact and organising a workshop on this with the Scotland Funders Forum;
  • establishing a ‘champions network’ of impact leaders; and
  • organising another Inspiring Impact workshop at the Gathering.


NPC programme manages Inspiring Impact and leads on the Shared Measurement strand, as well as engagement and communications. We produced Blueprint for Shared Measurement, looking at the benefits and challenges of a shared measurement approach, then applied it to the youth unemployment sector in a second report, The Journey to Employment.  We are now working to:


ACF leads on the Funder strand of the programme. Last year, ACF convened the ‘Funders for Impact’ working group, which produced the Funders’ Principles and Drivers of Good Impact Practice. The Funder Principles were launched alongside the Code of Good Impact Practice and outline what funders who are leading the impact agenda should be doing. This year, ACF is:

  • delivering impact training as part of the ACF Professional Development Programme;
  • promoting the Funder Principles at workshops with funders and funders’ forums across the UK; and
  • staying in touch with the Funders for Impact working group.

Inspiring Impact will be live tweeting from the conference, and you can follow what’s happening on the day using #impactconf2014. And if you’re there in person, do come and say hi!

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All in proportion: reflections on impact

All in proportionLiza Kellett is Chief Executive of Community Foundation in Wales.

The Community Foundation in Wales has recently completed an evaluation of a strategic, ten-year community-led grant investment programme run by one of our clients, the Fair Share Trust.  Motivated by the trust’s collaborative and creative approach, we decided to use a range of tools including storytelling, monitoring and analysis, and assessing the distance travelled with local stakeholders.  We talked about our findings at our Cardiff conference and other key events, using social media, and in a range of impact reports.

However, in delivering this impact evaluation and reviewing options for measuring the impact of our new campaign, the Fund for Wales, and through our participation in theInspiring Impact programme as part of the ACF-managed ‘Funders for Impact Working Group’, I realised we could do so much more to measure and share the impact of our grant-making and community investments.  Of course, our impact extends beyond this and incorporates promoting and managing philanthropy to build sustainable sources of funding for Welsh communities.

And just as importantly, we also have a responsibility and opportunity as funders to support the charity and community sector in showing the value of their work.

So we decided to go right back to basics: to review our own objectives and impact as a funder, and better understand how we can provide leadership, support and inspiration to the organisations we fund to help them explore, explain and measure their own impact.

We got the ball rolling by inviting James Magowan of ACF to establish a shared and broad understanding of what impact is and how we can show, and support, impact measurement. It was really important to bring all staff together on this to achieve an organisation-wide level of understanding, appreciation and engagement and build capacity and professional development at all levels. We wanted to make sure our grants ‘wing’ grasped that impact assessment is so much more than monitoring and grant reporting, and that our business development ‘wing’ recognised that understanding and sharing the impact of our work with donors and stakeholders is vital for our organisational development.

We set the Inspiring Impact – Funders’ principles and drivers of good impact practice as homework and used it as a starting point for the day.  Following a context- setting session from James we cantered through the ‘Principles’, which was particularly helpful having recently doubled our small staff team. Comments expressed relief at the need for proportionality, and suggested we continue to encourage the engagement of all staff and trustees by allocating different staff members to co-ordinate the pilot impact measurement reviews of specific programmes and  meeting again in six months’ time to reflect on progress, learning and next steps.

Finally we completed a grid to assess where we felt the Community Foundation in Wales currently sits  in relation to the Drivers of Good Impact Practice. Interestingly, although we were in general agreement about our current positioning, there were a range of assessments for each element reviewed. Even more interesting was that those with more detailed knowledge of measuring impact assessed our performance as lower/less evolved than those who were relatively new or junior.

We’ve now identified three specific programmes with very different characteristics and objectives, to pilot three different styles of impact measurement—one using results-based accountability, another using stories (chosen because this client appreciates anecdotal impact case studies), and a third showing how even £10,000 transactional one-off grants can relate to, respond to, and support Welsh Government policies and strategic programmes.

We’ve also agreed to re-convene to discuss  how best to support our grant beneficiaries in using the Code of Good Impact Practice, and how we can develop a simple standardised impact measurement tool across all our grants and programmes. As a community foundation we manage over 40 funds and programmes, each with bespoke objectives, criteria and expectations and ranging in grant size from £500 to £150,000-so setting a proportionate, meaningful and manageable core impact measurement system will be our core priority.

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Building Change Trust Announces Inspiring Impact Partnership with CENI

Building Change Trust logo 2009(1)





Inspiring Impact ended the year with a bang, confirming that the Building Change Trust will partner with CENI to implement the Inspiring Impact Programme in Northern Ireland.

The Trust has committed £500,000 to an initial two-year programme of work, which will support the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors to better track their impact.

Nigel McKinney, Building Change Trust Director of Operations, said: ‘Since 2011, the Trust has been considering the role we could play in respect of supporting the sector think about its impact.

‘The UK wide Inspiring Impact programme provides a key opportunity for Northern Ireland to benefit from the learning and experience of organisations on the UK mainland.

‘With the support of a wide range of stakeholders we have developed a plan for Northern Ireland that seeks to take advantage of this…We are now entering the delivery stage and are delighted to be working with CENI over the coming years.’

Tris Lumley, Head of Development at Inspiring Impact, said: ‘I’m delighted that the Inspiring Impact programme in Northern Ireland is gathering momentum, with CENI taking on the critical role of driving it forward.

‘It’s fantastic to see this strategic initiative truly working across the UK, and excellent to have this opportunity to work together to develop impact practice over the coming years.’

Brendan McDonnell, CENI Director said: ‘CENI look forward to taking on the challenge of bringing Inspiring Impact to Northern Ireland, as well as working with the Trust to animate new ideas, build relationships, create synergies between different sectors, and ultimately help facilitate funders and organisations to demonstrate the real difference they make.’

The Inspiring Impact programme has been gaining momentum recently, in Northern Ireland and further afield. We’re looking forward to a fruitful 2014 and seeing how much more impact we can have.

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The journey to sharing

The-JET-Pack-IIWe are greater than the sum of our parts. NPC and Inspiring Impact’s work on shared measurement is about acknowledging that to solve complex social problems, we need to work together to deliver change. We also need to collaborate and share when it comes to finding out what really works. Building this evidence requires organisations to come together and agree on the outcomes they work towards as a sector and then develop common ways to measure these.

We published a blueprint for shared measurement earlier this year and have since been working specifically with the youth employability sector to help organisations working in this area understand and measure the impact they have. We launched the Journey to EmploymenT (JET) framework in May and this outlines the shared outcomes that the sector is working towards—things like social and emotional skills, attitudes and  practical skills—which are all important for young people to do well in the world of work. The framework has been well received and a variety of organisations are now using it which is fantastic. However, we are still on a journey when it comes to the entire sector using it to consistently measure impact  and build the evidence base.

To help with this task, we have been working with a number of organisations to understand how the framework and tools really work on the ground. Based on the feedback we’ve received, we’ve been developing some guidance to help organisations use the JET framework effectively. The JET Pack—launched earlier today—is an eight-step guide designed to help organisations implement the framework. From developing a theory of change to identifying what to measure and then using the data, the pack tells you everything you need to know.

We hope the JET Pack will enable organisations in the youth employability sector to use the JET framework effectively and start building a clearer picture of what really works to get young people into employment. Of course, one of the most important steps towards this is sharing your results and learning from each other. To help start these conversations, we’ve also launched the JET Pack LinkedIn group. So if you are already using the JET framework or plan to, join the group to hear how others are getting on, ask questions and get the latest on our user events.

Over the next few months, we’ll be continuing to pilot the JET framework, JET Pack and tools with a number of youth organisations. This, along with feedback from other JET Pack users, will give us invaluable information on the areas we need to develop further or provide more guidance on. We will be publishing a new and improved version of the JET framework as a result of this testing in March 2014.

Ultimately we are working towards getting the right infrastructure in place to allow organisations working on youth employability issues to gather and share data via online platforms. We are not there yet, but as the JET framework continues to be used and tested, we will think about how we can best do this. In the meantime, publishing impact data on your website, sharing your feedback via our LinkedIn group, and encouraging your funders to also use JET when it comes to reporting is a very good starting point.

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In the crowd

Tim Crabbe – Chair and Director of Strategy at Substance – on the power of crowds and an opportunity to input into the new marketplace of resources.

Data tools and systemsI’ve always been a fan of crowds. It probably comes from when I started following Crystal Palace and fell in love with the energy the fans generated on the terraces, which fuelled a lifelong passion for football. Gigs, protest marches, music festivals, all manner of sports events, even Saturday afternoon high streets… they all followed and have had their moments for me over the years.

Whilst Paul Weller bemoaned the stultifying hegemonic influence of the crowd when he sang ‘When I’m in the crowd, I don’t see anything’, for me this is the space where individuality and collective purpose combine and unleash creative potential. As individuals and terrace wags perform to the crowd, creating new chants, dance moves or fashion looks, they push boundaries in the search for approval or reaction. In turn, whilst the crowd mutates and shifts in response to events, it is governed by the latent energy, physicality and democratic power of numbers. It belongs to no one and finds its own voice.

Inspiring Impact might not be the biggest crowd I’ve ever been part of but it will still be greater than the sum of its parts and have more potential to make a lasting change if everyone with an interest gets involved. Over the last few years the concept of crowdsourcing has become increasingly significant in the way that knowledge is gathered and shared and even how new innovations, music and performances are funded. Now we are looking to use a similar approach to help build the content to be listed in the new online impact marketplace being launched in 2014.

If you have developed a tool, system, website, report, guidance or service that might be used to improve the impact practice of the UK voluntary sector or even if you know about or use such a resource, we’d like you to tell us all about it. After an extensive period of consultation we have settled on an initial template for describing the resources to be listed and have produced an online survey to help us capture the required information.

There will be further and ongoing opportunities to add new resources and to edit the information provided but if you want your favourites listed from the start please tell us all about them by following this link. Please complete a fresh survey for any resource you want to have listed and feel free to share this link with colleagues. The survey will remain open until Friday 15 November in the first instance.

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