The difference between impact and participation in activities

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Extension specialist urges measuring impact of participation

Every team member gets a medal at the end of the season for participating in most youth sports leagues. The medal, however, merely recognizes participation.

In real life, adults do not get participation medals. What matters for most organizations, businesses and even families, is impact, according to David Burton, a civic communication and community development specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

"Impact goes beyond just participation. Impact means results or at least a strong effect on someone or something that creates a solution or result," said Burton. "In both the adult and business worlds, simply showing up to participate might get you an hourly paycheck, but creating a positive impact will get you promoted."

More than showing up

Burton notes that we teach children to participate in life, which includes participation in school activities, clubs and sports. Most times, just showing up is all that is expected to be able to say they are participating.

"As adults, we also often end up measuring participation. We simply recount how many meetings or activities we attended," said Burton. "If participation is the standard, then we have set the bar for success very low."

Part of the reason for focusing on participation is because participation is easy. Normally, participation does not require a person to put forth much effort to get credit.

"The problem is, we should measure impact or the difference that our participation made," said Burton. "The challenge is that many people have become comfortable with participation."

According to Burton, the other problem with participation is we expect more than is deserved.

"Remember, participation does not guarantee results. You have to set goals and focus on impact to see tangible results," said Burton.

Creating Impact

Impact does require hard work and dedication. Creating impact often takes time. In fact, according to Burton, creating impact means we have to set goals and keep focused on them.

"I've seen the difference between participation and impact in the gym as I work to lose weight," said Burton. "Just showing up at the gym is better than sitting on the couch. But I still shouldn't expect a benefit without putting in some effort. Just opening the door to the gym doesn't help me lose weight. Honestly, doing the minimum exercise at an easy pace doesn't either."

Simply measuring repetitions and time is just like participation and it does not show impact.

"It all starts with a paradigm change," said Burton. "Impact is when you become focused on changing things like bad habits, to achieve your goals."

"Individuals do need participation to have an impact. But the participation needs to lead to impact leading to change," said Burton.

Impact means something is faster, better, stronger, more efficient, more competitive, improved, and no longer the same.

"Impact is about making a difference with our efforts. When we stop accepting participation as the norm and demand impact - positive things begin to occur," said Burton.

Community development specialists with MU Extension help people create communities of the future by tapping into local strengths and university resources. The Community Development program works with communities to foster economic development, leadership development, community decision making, community emergency preparedness and inclusive communities.