Measuring impact while recognising human complexity: New guidance

Published27th February 2018

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is publishing a new guide to help charities understand, measure, evaluate and analyse their wellbeing impact. Ingrid Abreu Scherer, Programme Manager at the Centre, explains how funders and commissioners can use the guide to help improve impact evaluation and analysis of projects and programmes.

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is publishing a new guide to help charities understand, measure, evaluate and analyse their wellbeing impact. Ingrid Abreu Scherer, Programme Manager at the Centre, explains how funders and commissioners can use the guide to help improve impact evaluation and analysis of projects and programmes.

People are complex. Measuring traditional outcomes can sometimes hide this complexity; it can hide the full impact of charities’ activities.

At the Centre we study this complexity, and the different things that make up our wellbeing: the quality of our health, work, relationships; how happy, anxious or satisfied we feel; how confident, purposeful, or connected our lives are. It’s all interconnected, and changes many times over the course of our lives.

Wellbeing can be measured by looking at observable factors (like employment), as well as by looking at factors that are subjective to the person experiencing them, like how safe we feel.

How do you, as a funding or commissioning organisation, build reporting and evaluation into a grant in a way that captures complexity and tells a more nuanced story about a project or programme’s impact?

For example: a family is constantly being moved from one temporary housing to the next, they will at any point be considered to be ‘in housing’ when viewed through a traditional measurement lens.

However, the benefits of having a place to live may be undermined by the stress and uncertainty of constantly moving, by the inability of children to have stable schooling or friendships, and by the lack of connection to the local area. Just measuring a family’s housing situation is not going to give us a full picture of their wellbeing.

And measuring the wellbeing of this family could tell a story that’s vital for both the organisation, and those funding the work.

So why doesn’t the way charities measure impact, for the most part, take this complexity into account as well? Why does the sector still tend to focus on traditional outcomes, while so often missing out on evaluating vital wellbeing impacts?

We think there might be a number of reasons:

  • There’s not been, until now, a clear and simple way to understand, measure and analyse wellbeing data.
  • There’s a need to make a stronger case for valuing wellbeing impact.
  • Some wellbeing impacts – like confidence or sense of belonging – are often taken for granted by voluntary and community groups, and not worth measuring.
  • There’s a need for a reliable framework – based on evidence and robust methods – that the sector can use, and which is accepted by funders and commissioners.
  • Funders and commissioners are not always asking for wellbeing impacts to be measured.
  • Organisations may have been collecting the information in different ways, without knowing how to compare impact between projects – within the same organisation, within areas, or across sectors.

Whether you want to improve health, education or employment, measuring wellbeing can help charities show the wider impact they have on the people and communities they support.

How to Measure Wellbeing Impact will help you put together a simple questionnaire to measure the wellbeing of the people you work with – whether you write your own or use tried and tested questions.

It is designed to help small- and medium-sized charities understand how to compare different projects, and see the impact they’re having overall. Users can also find out how to compare results against the national, regional or local averages to make the case for their service.

Ultimately, our goal is that measuring wellbeing will help charities understand their projects better. By developing your their wellbeing survey, and linking the findings to data they already collect, they’ll understand their full impact on people’s wellbeing,what works to improve wellbeing, and why. They will also be able to show the wider impact they have on the people and communities they support.

Beyond helping a single organisation, wellbeing measures can help us create a bigger picture. If organisations use consistent measures and share their results with us, we can start to build a better idea of what works. And identify strengths, and where there’s room for improvement across the sector.

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