Impact story: Building data collection into everyday activity

The Voluntary Sector Support Service team, Horsham district, is a commissioned service since 1998. From 2017 the team have been co-located within Horsham District Council, effectively operating as the local CVS (council for voluntary service). The service has contributed significantly to the Horsham district voluntary-sector-wide response to Covid-19, working very closely with 27 identified volunteer-led community groups supporting their local communities with help such as shopping, prescription collections, friendly phone calls and more. These volunteer hubs formed organically and independently across the 204 square miles of the Horsham district with over 1,800 volunteers registering to help during lockdown.

Getting the right people involved

The district council put together a small task force of those who know the communities well. The task force added to existing knowledge by gathering information about local needs through a mapping process; this also highlighted local services and local people who could provide support.

A support system for hubs was then set up with task force members being joined by other council staff. The task force trained and then provided weekly support via Zoom to council workers, many of whom had not spoken to community members before. These council workers, together with members of the task force, became liaison officers and were each allocated to one of the 27 hub leads.

The council liaison officer called the hub lead weekly to find out about the community’s needs, and asked about what was working well and not so well. These calls therefore served multiple purposes: needs analysis; evaluation; and relationship building.

Having the right methods

Basic statistics were collected by the liaison officers from their hub lead, such as the number of volunteers and the number of requests for help (broken down into food, beds, friendly calls, for example). As well as information on needs, they also collected other basic information.

Online forms were created so that council liaison officers could input the information received. It was important for them to complete the forms as hub leads did not always want to do it. Effectively, the forms were completed from interviews. The qualitative data was hard work to analyse, but gave useful information. This information was reviewed daily at team meetings for learning and was analysed in more depth once a week to enable the task force to create a set of statistics for managers and leaders.

The outcome

As a result of their evaluation, they know their local communities better. The voluntary sector support team’s priorities are shifting slightly as a result of learning from information gathered. For example, there is now a greater focus on loneliness, food poverty and unemployment. Community transport is also a priority, with new funding being applied for: most of the volunteers for community transport schemes were over 70 years old, and many of the schemes had to close, cutting off the ‘lifeblood’ locally. These findings are being used to help shape council policies going forward.

If you are thinking of doing something similar we suggest you:

  1. Make sure you are clear on what data you already have and where your gaps are. Use our quick interactive exercise to review your existing data.
  2. Think about participatory or more visual tools that could be quick ways to get feedback. This could include photographs, videos, body maps, comments wall using google documents etc. See Evaluation Support Scotland’s guidance and NCVO Knowhow’s participatory methods for measuring impact.

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