Viewpoint: on Community Development Outcome Evaluation

Viewpoint: on Community Development Outcome Evaluation

For those of you who could not make it to the showcase event on 23rd January, I thought I would capture a short write up of my presentation. 

My background is organisation development, communications and had also set up and ran two previous forum. But I had no experience of working within the third sector.  New into the role, I spent a lot of time with member organisations to find out what their challenges were and we ourselves did some evaluation on the work of the Forum to date and what would be needed going forward.

There were some main themes captured then; which still hold true today. Funding pressures, evaluation, resilience and the social isolation leaders felt.

Putting the latter to one side, quite clear to me was the interaction between the rest. Funders rightly expect a solid story and good evaluation is the key to that.

In previous roles I was well versed with quantitative evaluation and then again at university manipulating SIMD data with SPSS, but this work was different.  I realised that outputs are meaningless if a difference is not made.  It felt much more like my communications work i.e. how to thread a story together AROUND the numbers.

Which sounds reasonable and correct. But yet, I think we all feel the frustration as to the gap in ‘doing things right’ versus ‘ doing the right thing’. Even though Scotland is leading the way on outcomes work – and indeed the Forum itself has always been at the forefront of demonstrating good evaluation through the collaborative design of the current HSCP framework –  we are still some way short of truly being able to focus on outcome reporting.

Why is that?

Well, there is clearly a huge shift change required further up the chain which requires

  • solid evidence that outcome reporting is possible
  • courage that yes, although it is ‘messier’ than just having numbers it is much more valuable
  • a great deal of trust in the change.

What I also find fascinating is the dichotomy between community led work and evaluation. Many projects begin by one or two passionate individuals, who are filling a community need. They are not (on the whole), experts in evaluation and nor should they be, when there is a service to deliver! So where does this talent / skillset come from? We know the challenges of recruiting with short term funding and / or attracting suitable candidates to boards to fill a specific gap.

When there isn’t a wider, holistic view of how evaluation fits in with the whole, then what happens? It is an add on, an extra which gets pushed to the bottom of the pile only to rear its head when we have to report to funders or seek new funding. It is a back to front dynamic. It should not be a top down, financially driven approach.

We in the ECHF, individually and collectively, have great stories to tell about the change we impart towards positive health outcomes. And shout about them we should. There is no sector like the third sector: we are not scared to find out what people truly need, to fight their corner to make a change, we are dynamic, responsive and passionate, and have the ability to coordinate efficient activities with many stakeholders whilst also juggling a day to day cocktail of financial and staff pressures. (Please forgive the wide generalisations!)

My hope with the outcome evaluation work we are doing is to be able to provide organisations with the means to capture their work in a meaningful way, which is not an ‘add on’ to any existing evaluation. Rather that it complements it, and in fact, provides some process improvement to free up time for service delivery.

When I met Dr Sarah Morton of Matter of Focus back in 2017 I asked her if she had considered a collective approach and up to then they had not. I strongly felt that to collect a little of the work of a collective whole would be very effective and powerful. I had used data from previous forums in a similar way (albeit quantitatively).

We have been in the privileged position of working (with Matter of Focus) together for over two years now to test if the approach will work. We firstly used the methodology and tools internally focused on the work of the ECHF itself and used this to prepare our EIJB funding application. That application was successful and then included plans to rollout the same approach within the wider Forum.

For the past nine months we have had nine members going through the same process. They are able to use the tool to fit their organisation’s values and goals; which still feeding into a collective ‘outcome map.’

We are proud of the work so far and look forward to moving it onto the next chapter and how it might fit into the wider whole.

I hope this summary is helpful, and if you have any questions, then please drop me an email: grace@echf.org.uk

Grace Mackenzie

 

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