A few years ago when I was working for a youth charity, I ended up being responsible for our impact measurement. I say ‘ended up’ because as with most roles in growing charities sometimes you just pitch in and take on responsibilities when necessary.
Luckily I was genuinely interested in this magical thing called ‘impact measurement’. I used my small amount of time each week to keep our existing systems and processes running and help the team to figure out what we could learn from the data that we collected. I got help from friends at other charities, a few pro bono consultants (with mixed results), video tutorials for Excel formulas, and Google searches for ‘what is a good sample size?’ or ‘how do I run a focus group?’.
I’m now managing the Inspiring Impact programme, which has been on a mission since 2012 to make good impact practice the norm in the voluntary sector. For the next couple of years our partnership, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, is focusing on helping charities across the UK figure out what sort of impact measurement is right for them and how to make it part of their day-to-day activity. This means we’re offering content and events to help charities:
- Make their evaluation work relevant and sensible for the organisation
- Make impact practice a day-to-day activity that is valued and shared across the organisation
That stuff matters. If impact measurement isn’t fit-for-purpose and genuinely useful for staff, it becomes a dreaded tick-box exercise… something that we do because our funders ask us to.
The thing I enjoyed most about my impact measurement work in that youth charity was figuring out how to get the rest of the team excited about it so we could really use the data we were collecting. There were 25 of us in 7 different cities, with huge enthusiasm for our work but limited time for data collection and analysis.
I focused on understanding what staff cared about and what they needed to do their jobs well. We tweaked processes and dashboards so everyone had quick and easy access to data about their work, integrated data reviews into monthly planning, shared achievements and challenges on our internal messaging platform, stopped collecting data that wasn’t useful, introduced new staff to our theory of change on their first day, and ran training that showed how our theory of change connected to our data collection, analysis, reporting and operational planning.
It’s important to see real examples of how charities use impact measurement to improve their services. In the last year, 414 charity staff or trustees attended free Inspiring Impact peer learning events in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These events are spaces where people can work through challenges together, look at examples of each other’s impact measurement and identify their next steps. One attendee in Belfast said, ‘The events have helped me network and meet people in similar jobs and learn about other ways to do evaluation. They’ve been a source of inspiration and ideas.’
Meanwhile 20,000 people used the free guidance and resources on our website – especially our basic introduction to impact practice, our self-assessments that offer tailored recommendations and our advice on how to use impact measurement to improve your work and change organisational culture.
We think that with good impact practice, charities can achieve better outcomes for the people they support. We hope to reach more people again this year through our free events, webinars, newsletter and online resources.