Leading change from the inside out: Evaluating the impact of our Purpose Journey

Written by
Jannik Kaiser
July 18, 2023

Unity Effect’s purpose is leading change from the inside out.

It’s our ambition to nurture inner resources, clarity and a sense of purpose within the people, teams and organisations we work with. 

One of our programmes is our Purpose Journey, a 6 week deep-dive into personal purpose and values, reconnecting with inspiration and finding clarity for the path ahead. The Journey combines weekly facilitated online sessions, a buddy system for peer coaching sessions and a workbook with exercises and resources.  

At the start of 2023, around 40 participants joined the Purpose Journey we offered. In order to understand the impact of it, we applied our approach of regenerative measurement and evaluation. More details on the methodology and results are below. 

This article is less about the specific details of the impact evaluation, and more about the general insights we identified.

We always had a sense and had heard through anecdotal stories that a reflective programme such as the Purpose Journey not only supports aspects such as self-compassion or inner clarity, but can lead to participants taking concrete actions. Or put that way: Spaces for self-reflection are crucial in the process of leading change. 

Yet the clarity of the results even surprised us. 

Within the 6 weeks of the programme, participants not only developed certain capacities, but made significant decisions and changes in their lives from a place of deeper connection with themselves. 

This blog maps out what made that impact possible, laying out

  • The underlying conditions for creating safe & transformative online spaces
  • The surprises waiting inside
  • Making decisions and taking action: In connection with yourself
  • Further reflections

The underlying conditions for creating safe & transformative online spaces

Over the past years of designing and hosting both our own programmes and different kinds of events, workshops and conferences for our partners, we’ve gained some important learnings about designing participatory learning spaces. 

Below are the three most relevant conditions, from our perspective, that made the impact possible for participants of the Purpose Journey. These conditions can be applied to any learning experience. 

Clear structure and guidance: Designing for experiential learning

Every step of the Journey was designed with intent. In terms of the overall flow, we make sure that there is a coherent progression of topics and that there is support to transfer the insights of each Journey session into the daily lives of participants. We do this by complementing the sessions with a (voluntary) buddy system and workbook with resources and exercises. The workbook contains step by step instructions on how to run peer coaching sessions with a buddy and complete and apply different exercises each week. 

The weekly sessions focus on experiential learning and peer exchange. Experiential learning means that after we provide context and input, we invite participants into hands-on activities, e.g. individual reflection and working time on their personal values or other topics, before having a small group exchange.

Kolb's Experiential Learning Model

Creating these experiences during the sessions makes the transfer to their life outside the journey more likely. This is further supported through exercises that participants are encouraged to complete for homework, so that experimentation and concrete experience occurs between the Journey sessions. Each session then begins with space to share reflections from the week to integrate the learnings. 

Working with the experiential learning framework is also rooted in our conviction that each person is the expert of their own journey. We can provide a frame, but then it’s up to you to discern, adjust and implement what supports you. 

“The Purpose Journey was a beautiful experience - to connect with such presence and deep methods with others helped me to focus back on what is essential for me in this very moment.” (Katerina Brandes)

Trust and psychological safety

We’ve talked about building trust and psychological safety, and called it the magic ingredient for collaboration. Yet how do you create that in an online space with only 6 joint sessions? 

Here’s some tips and tricks that we apply: 

  • Co-creating ‘standards of presence’: Group guidelines and practices that have the intention of enabling participants to show up fully. 
  • Never skip the check-in and check-out. Even in big groups, think of ways to engage everyone in the beginning and at the very end (even if it’s just by writing a one word check-out in the chat). 
  • Providing support for breakouts, e.g. with clear guiding questions, instructions on the time (how many minutes per person) and sending through notifications to guide the exercise. 
  • Assuring confidentiality: Establishing the rule to not share anything personal that has been shared with you (e.g. in breakouts) in the big group. 

Yet probably the most important aspect is the inner place from which we facilitate: With presence, generosity of spirit, and care. Participants can feel if you genuinely wish to support them. 

“I felt that "I am in the right place" throughout the journey, when I was listening to others and how open we all were to listen and look at things from ourselves that were not clear to us.” (Osmar Farias)

Slowing down the pace

We live in a fast paced world, where different challenges are knocking on our doors every day. We’ve experienced that one of the most effective and daring ways to make a difference is to break the pattern of urgency and feeling busy. Less content does not mean less meaning, and moments of silence can bring about deeper reflections. 

“Purpose Journey gave me time and space to slow down and reflect about my own sensemaking. In our fast moving world, we often don't have that time. This is a space for that guided so eloquently by UE.” (Agnes Meneses)

Having a shared intention: Leading change

It’s the general ambition of many of us to contribute to meaningful change. While participants in the Purpose Journey worked for different types of organisations and in different sectors, they shared a desire to foster a more just and thriving world. One challenge that many of us face in that process, however, is that we don’t have (or take) much time for self-reflection and (re)connection with our inner compass and resources. 

Having that shared desire supported a general sense of belonging, and the feeling that we are on this journey together. Which we actually are. 

The surprises waiting inside

The Purpose Journey was an invitation for participants to reflect and connect with others, re-energise and reconnect with one's inner clarity and purpose. Similarly to venturing into nature or unknown places, there is so much to explore within ourselves. 

Looking inside is about understanding what motivates and moves us, what we deeply care about and looking at the experiences and patterns might stand in our own way. It’s also about self-care and self-acceptance, celebrating what we have already achieved and the qualities and resources we can build on. 

The chart below shows four dimensions (inner wholeness, living into potential, relating to the world, acting jointly) and respective capacities that we measured in our evaluation. 

We asked participants to rate statements on a scale from 1 to 10 (to which extent each statement applies to them), and invited them to respond to open-ended questions. 

The data showed that:

  • Within “inner wholeness”, there was a significant increase in self-compassion (+0.67) and inner clarity (+0.69), as well as physical wellbeing (+0.39). 
  • Within “experiencing full potential”, there was a significant increase in three capacities as well: courage (+0.55), resilience (+0.54) and goal-orientation (+0.44)
  • The other two capacities with significant increase were in “acting jointly”, namely empowering others (+0.48) and engaging with complexity (+0.44). 
  • The capacities within “relating to the world” remained quite stable (all slightly positive), which is not that surprising as these are very fundamental ways we engage with life. 

What was most important to participants in that regard is: 

  • A growing awareness of their own needs, passions, available resources and reconnecting with the essence of what is most important to them. 
  • The ability to put words to those aspects to be able to communicate them and use them as a compass and to guide decision-making (values, needs)
  • Connecting with gratitude and appreciation for where they are in life and the journey to get there. 

What we can observe is that the biggest changes were in ‘inner clarity’ and ‘self-compassion’. Yet it didn’t stop there. 

Making decisions and taking action: In connection with yourself

What the data suggests is that having more inner clarity and self-compassion leads to more courage, resilience and deliberate actions. This is also reflected in the responses we received to the open-ended questions. A central theme was to build confidence in their own strengths and dreams, rather than what is expected of them. 

Multiple participants also shared about the decisions and changes that they made, such as taking concrete steps to move forward in their career through further education or applying for new jobs. 

“A pleasant & helpful nudge and support every week to take some time and reflect on what is important to me and live more out of intent and less out of habit.”

Another layer is that participants felt more capable of empowering others and engaging with complexity. Here, participants shared that during and after the Journey they 

  • focused more on reaching out to their existing networks to stay connected to their purpose and remember they’re not alone, and 
  • moved away from relationships that were draining rather than energising them. 

“This journey has been a wonderful gift of collaborative spirit, trust, and inspiration, and has proven a boost of positivity in a wonderful team.”

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Further reflections

There are a few reflections and insight we carry with us, both from the Purpose Journey experience and other programmes and projects, that we would like to share with you: 

  1. Personal change and transformation can happen calmly. We don’t need self-help gurus telling us how to change. We have it all within ourselves, and supportive spaces such as the Purpose Journey can help us connect with it. 
  2. We need each other, or at least it makes our lives and reflection processes so much easier if we open up and connect in trusted groups. 
  3. Online spaces are suited to guide very personal processes. With many of us experiencing a post-pandemic online fatigue we would like to highlight the strengths of shared online spaces if set up deliberately: We can bring people from around the world and different backgrounds together, be more time-effective in creating small-group exchange and make what we offer more accessible. For certain exercises, joining from our own safe space can also allow us to go deeper into self reflection. 

“I never participated in a course like this before. It was truly eye-opening; I learned to recognize my values, make conscious choices, and even created my own mindfulness mini-practice.”

Do you want to be part of a supportive community that combines wellbeing and deliberate action? Check out our communities of practice

If you would like to read and learn more about our regenerative approach to measurement and evaluation,  read on below or reach out to Jannik: jannik@unityeffect.net

We also host a dedicated community of practice on regenerative measurement and evaluation, where we provide tools, tips and templates. 

You can also directly schedule a call with us to learn more or discuss how we can support you, your team or organisation. 

Annex: Methodology of the evaluation 

The results and insights that we presented in this article are based on a systematic evaluation we conducted, drawing on academic assessments to measure capacity development and methods for qualitative data analysis to evaluate the impact of the programme. 

The analysis combined qualitative and quantitative data to evaluate 4 major dimensions: 

  1. Inner wholeness
  2. Living into potential
  3. Relating to the world
  4. Acting jointly

The core focus of the Purpose Journey is on “integrity with self”. Yet we wanted to understand if other dimensions are also (positively) impacted by the Journey. 

For a more nuanced understanding, each dimension is broken down into four specific capacities. Integrity with self, for example, contains the following four capacities: 

  • Inner clarity 
  • Physical wellbeing
  • Emotional self-regulation 
  • Self-compassion 

The table below shows the 4 dimensions with its corresponding capacities, as well as the trends from the evaluation. 

In addition, we had a couple of self-created items that are linked to the content and themes of the Purpose Journey, e.g. “If you ask me right now, I could tell you what my core values are.” The score for these 6 items increased by 1.29 points, which is much higher than the scores for the capacities. This, in turn, indicates that the changes within the capacities are of a more general and substantial nature. 

The third pillar of our evaluation is the most significant change methodology, where we asked participants: 

“What was the biggest change that happened within you, or in your life, throughout the Journey?”

We also added one question specifically asking about the conditions that supported them, namely: 

“What supported you throughout the Journey?”

Further open-ended questions were for our internal learning, such as: 

Are there any ideas you have to improve the program? Did you miss something that would have enabled a more meaningful learning experience for you?”

We clustered the results of the open-ended questions to understand trends and overlaps. This helped us to contextualise the quantitative results, being able to paint a general picture that is based on actual data. 

A guiding principle of ours is that any evaluation further supports people, and is not felt as an extra burden. This is why we have, as much as possible, integrated the evaluation activities into the Journey flow, and used it as an additional opportunity for participants to reflect on their own experience. 

If you wish to learn more about our regenerative approach to measurement and evaluation, please reach out! 

About the author
Co-founder of Unity Effect. Striving to capture the depths and intricacies of social change, and how to shape it. Having a soft spot for complexity science, impact evaluation and cat videos.
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