In 2017/18 ESS delivered 3 Inspiring Impact (II) events. In the end of year survey 89% of participants told us they wanted to have opportunities to bring their evaluation problems to events to discuss and find solutions with other evaluation enthusiasts i.e. doing an action learning activity. Our Inspiring Impact partners in other parts of the UK do this but we never had.
Having never facilitated this type of session before, we read up  on it and discussed how best we could give participants this opportunity in this year’s sessions.
Risks and Opportunities
It was a scary prospect. We knew we were taking some risks.
We needed to ask people to send us evaluation problems in advance; we were concerned that we wouldn’t get any, or that we would have too many to share and not enough time. We wondered if other people coming to the event would have their own experience of similar issues in order to offer ideas/solutions to the person’s challenge and – dare we say it? – we were a bit worried about quality control!
But we also saw the possible benefits: a chance to air real-life evaluation problems with peers; encouraging practice sharing; an opportunity for us to pick up on challenges in the sector; a different type of resource for the sector/ a good replacement for case studies.
How would the action learning work in practice in the II events?
We decided to call the session a ‘Solutions Sounding Board’. We planned another option (a scenario exercise) so participants had a choice of activity. Running different sessions at the same time meant thinking through how to accommodate each group’s needs.
We were very pleased to receive two great questions; one from a funder and one from a third sector organisation.
How it went
11 people opted for the action learning session. Unfortunately, the third sector organisation was not able to attend to ask their question so we went ahead with just the funder’s question. This provoked lots of discussion and learning for the whole group. Click here for a summary of the question and discussion.
What we learned
We learned that in this case taking a risk paid off!
In feedback at the end participants told us:
What went well
- It was informative
- Working together on a practical exercise was useful
- Having a balance of views between funder and TSO was good
- Using the phrase ‘Solutions Sounding Board’ was helpful and gave a good description of what we did.
‘Having a mix of participants e.g. funders, 3rd sector.’
frontline/managers Nadeem, MCASS
What could be better
Some people said they weren’t clear how it would work; would people be put on the spot in front of a big group? We can improve our messaging about this. Having the questions available from the start of the day would help people get thinking.
‘All of us submitting and bringing in more questions for the action learning set.’
Victoria, the Welcoming
‘More information about how it was going to work might have resulted in more questions and better understanding in the different groups.’
Jenny, The Ecology Centre
We’ll do them again! We will improve our messaging; what we mean by ‘Action Learning/Solutions Sounding Board/Solutions Circle’ because there are different approaches to doing it.
We will try out different ways and formats to share what we have learned (about the content of the discussions) with a range of audiences.
Read the event report here.