Recently Áine Lovedale, Policy and Learning Adviser at Big Lottery Fund went on a ‘mini-secondment’ to Evaluation Support Scotland, an organisation that works with third sector organisations and funders to help them measure, report and share information on their impact.
Today Áine tells us what made this a great experience for her, and why we need to be more ‘human’ in measuring the impact of funding!
As funders we encourage our grant holders to evaluate their activities – to highlight what works well, and not so well, helping us to gauge the impact of their work so we can learn what successful projects look like. But we should aim to apply this same learning culture to ourselves. None of us exist in a vacuum. We’re all working towards broadly the same goal: to make things better for those in need. So with this in mind I went on a two week ‘mini secondment’ to Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) to learn more about the work they do.
I already knew that ESS do great work supporting organisations to better evaluate their work but I hadn’t quite realised the range of support they offer: workshops, practical toolkits, written guides, seminars and facilitated sessions, to name a few! But arriving for my first day I was curious to see how ESS encouraged people to get on board with evaluation, and maybe even (gulp) enjoy it!
After a few days the answer became clear: it’s about focusing on people, not processes.
At ESS I looked at how the team go about evaluating asset based approaches in an asset based way. As the phrase ‘asset-based’ becomes more ubiquitous it risks being seen as jargon so ESS are keen to produce simple, practical guidance on it. I identified some practical tools and techniques and examples of good practice which the team already use and could continue to build on.
I learned that when involving people in evaluations, the key is to be flexible and proportionate to the situation. Asset-based approaches are all about valuing the strengths of individuals and communities, so likewise asset-based evaluations need to recognise the ‘human’ element. It takes time to deliver asset-based work and a lot depends on personalities of those involved. It’s not a quick process that can be over-planned so when it comes to evaluation you need to be open to the unknown: ‘relax, be curious, be human’.
This approach is more than just crunching numbers. It’s about looking for the learning in everyday situations and observing the small changes that lead to big differences in people’s lives – ESS call this ‘capturing the casual’. It reminds me of something Albert Einstein said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” This is about moving beyond measuring ‘hard’ data towards reflecting and valuing the ‘softer’ changes in people lives. I really like this. It’s something we can take on board more at The Fund, but it also just makes sense on a personal level. If we want to know if things have gotten better for someone then we need to ask them, and listen to, how things in their life have changed.
Learning should be a conversation, not a one way process, so in return Patty from ESS is spending two weeks here with us. Hopefully she’ll feel as welcome here as the lovely team at ESS made me feel for my brief time with them and we can keep the learning conversation going!