Medium to large voluntary organisations guidance - Review

Review

In order to get the best return on the time, effort and resources you invest in planning, evidencing and making sense of your impact, you will need to use your findings for their ultimate purpose – helping your organisation to improve. Review looks at how you use your findings to get better at the way you plan, describe and deliver your work, as well as the way in which you embed your learning in order to get better at measuring the difference you make.

Whether or not you prepare a written report, you will need to think carefully about how you communicate your findings to promote your service and to spread your learning to the widest possible audience. This includes thinking about how you present your impact to funders, the public and partners, as well as feeding back to the people who were involved in the impact measurement process. It also means thinking through how to communicate your findings clearly, honestly and transparently.

4.1 We feed back our findings externally to partners and funders, and internally to everyone involved in measuring our impact

This criterion looks at the way you share your findings with key people outside of your organisation, including funders, commissioners, partner organisations and the public. It also looks at the way you feed back your findings to the people involved in measuring your impact – including your staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries.

Having gathered and analysed your evidence, you will be ready to tell people about the difference that your work makes. Whether or not you choose to prepare a formal report, make sure that you include key internal and external audiences in your plan for communicating your impact.

Externally, presenting your findings to funders and commissioners will keep you accountable to the people who fund your work, and help to increase their understanding of how and why your work makes a difference. Communicating your findings to partner organisations and to the general public will also help to raise your profile and promote your work.

Internally, it is also important to feed back to the people involved in measuring your impact: your staff, volunteers, and if possible, your beneficiaries. Sharing your findings internally allows people to see the results of their data collection, and presenting evidence of successes can be rewarding and motivating. If you are able to feed back to beneficiaries, this can be a way of thanking people for their contribution to your organisation’s impact measurement process, and a way of demonstrating that the information they shared has been carefully considered and put to good use.

This criterion is fully met if:

You share your findings with key external stakeholders and everyone involved in gathering evidence of your impact, including staff and volunteers and, where possible, beneficiaries.

What next?

If you’ve met this criterion in full, you could improve your practice by…

  • Including your findings in all your key marketing and publicity documents

Including evidence of your impact in the materials you use to promote your service will help you communicate your findings to a wider audience.

  • Sharing your findings with local and national networks

Sharing your findings with local and national networks will allow you to reach an even wider audience, and to share learning across the sector.

4.2 We provide information about how our evidence was collected when we report our findings

Including details of how you gathered your data – your methodology – is an important part of communicating your findings in a way that is clear, transparent, and allows your audience to make judgements about the strength of your conclusions.

This involves talking about:

  • The tools you used to collect data, and how and when they were applied
  • How you decided which groups should be included in your sample
  • The number and type of groups that you collected data from
  • How you asked people to participate

For example – did you invite people via email, put up posters in your local community centre, or ask everyone face to face?

  • Whether or not you provided participants with an incentive

If you provided people with an incentive to participate, such as a voucher, you should include this in your description of how the data was collected.

It is not unusual in research for things to turn out differently from how they were planned. If you decided to change your data collection tools or if you had trouble getting back enough data, be honest and open about this in the way you present your findings. This also helps other organisations to learn about what works in terms of collecting evidence.

This criterion is fully met if:

When presenting your findings, you include details about how you collected your evidence, and who you collected it from, so that your audience can make judgements about the strength of your findings.

What next?

If you’ve met this criterion in full, you could improve your practice by…

  • Making a clear distinction between presenting the data that you’ve collected, and your interpretation of it

Analysis involves two key stages – reviewing each type of data that you have collected to look for patterns and trends (sometimes called your raw data), and then bringing your data together in order to draw conclusions about how your work has made a difference (see 3.3).

Making a distinction between these two stages – the data itself, and your interpretation of it – is important, because it gives people information about how you have developed your findings and conclusions.

  • Highlighting areas where more data is needed or where it’s not possible to draw a clear conclusion

Being open about where your findings are inconclusive, or where you don’t have enough data to be able to draw a solid conclusion about your impact will help your audience to understand which findings are most robust.

4.3 We use our findings to help us review, and to re-set, realistic and achievable targets.

Collecting evidence about your impact will give you the detailed information you need to assess whether or not your organisation is on track with its strategic plan. Reviewing your findings against your output targets (what you hoped to deliver, and to whom) and your outcome targets (the difference that you wanted to make for beneficiaries) will help you to understand the extent to which you have been successful in creating the changes that you planned.

Once you understand your current level of achievement against your targets, you will be better placed to set realistic targets for future work. Your understanding of how and why your work makes a difference, and the pace at which outcomes are achieved for beneficiaries, will also help you to set achievable targets.

This criterion is fully met if:

You use your findings to review the extent to which you met your output and outcome targets, and to set targets for future work that are realistic and achievable.

What next?

If you’ve met this criterion in full, you could improve your practice by…

  • Using your findings to develop a clearer picture of your strengths and weaknesses

Using your evidence to inform an assessment of your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses can help you to build a strategy for change or think through where best to target your resources.

  • Using your findings to identify potential areas for service development

Reviewing evidence of unmet needs can help you to identify areas where you could develop and extend the services that you provide.

4.4 We use our findings to make sure that our theory of change (the description of how and why our work makes a difference) is accurate and realistic

Your theory of change describes the links between your outputs, outcomes and impact, and sets out how and why your work makes a difference. Having collected evidence of the difference your work is making, you should now be able to assess whether or not this description is accurate and realistic.

This means reviewing whether or not your work creates change in the way that you imagined, as well as considering whether or not the scale of change that you hoped to create is realistic and achievable. Reviewing your theory of change document against your findings will help you to make changes, if necessary, to the way you describe the difference your work makes.

This process is not about reducing your ambition, or lowering the bar of what you want to achieve. It is a process of making sure that you give a true picture of the difference your work makes, or can potentially make, and that the goals you are working towards are realistic and feasible given the type of change your work creates, and the resources you have available.

This criterion is fully met if:

You use your findings to check that your theory of change document is accurate and realistic. You make amends as necessary, based on your evidence of how and why your organisation makes a difference.

What next?

If you’ve met this criterion in full, you could improve your practice by…

  • Reviewing the timeframes within which you expect changes to happen

Collecting evidence will have given you information about the timescales in which beneficiaries achieve different changes. You can use this evidence to make your theory of change more accurate and realistic.

  • Reviewing the resources needed to create change

Using the evidence gathered t, you can also review your original assumptions about the resources necessary for creating change, and refine this area of your theory of change document.

4.5 We use our findings to improve the way we deliver our work.

Getting better at what you do, and improving the service that you offer to beneficiaries, is the ultimate goal of focusing on your impact. This could involve using your findings to make straightforward changes, such as changing your opening hours; or more complex ones, such as rolling out a new way of working.

Without reflecting and acting on what your findings mean for the way you deliver your work, you will leave the impact cycle unfinished, and the biggest area of learning untouched.

This criterion is fully met if:

You make changes to the way you deliver services, based on your findings.

What next?

If you’ve met this criterion in full, you could improve your practice by…

  • Using your findings to reallocate resources within your organisation

Once you have an understanding about which areas of your work make the most difference to beneficiaries, you may decide to reallocate resources within your organisation accordingly.

  • Using your findings to set standards for the way you deliver services

Measuring your impact will give you an evidence base for deciding which processes and ways of working are most effective at creating change for beneficiaries. Developing standards for how you deliver your services, based on this evidence, will help to make sure that everyone in your organisation is working to the framework that is most likely to generate results.

4.6 We review the way we measure our impact and make changes as necessary

Once you have completed a full cycle of planning, evidencing, understanding, communicating and learning about your impact, there will almost always be things that you would do differently the next time around. Taking the time to reflect on how your tools and processes could be improved will help you to refine and perfect the way you measure your impact, saving time in the longer term.

This criterion is fully met if:

You take the time to reflect on how your tools and processes could be improved at the end of each cycle, and make changes if necessary.

What next?

If you’ve met this criterion in full, you could improve your practice by…

  • Including staff, volunteers and beneficiaries in a review of your impact practice

Gathering input from the people who collect data within your organisation, and the people who provide information (where possible), will help you to make informed changes to your data collection tools and processes.

  • Using your learning to help identify any unexpected resource needs

You can also use your learning to inform your understanding of any resource needs you might have around measuring and making sense of your impact, and to feed into your short- and long-term plans to meet these needs.

4.7 We communicate our findings honestly, including information about failures as well as successes

Just as collecting evidence of your impact has the potential to increase your own understanding of how and why your work is effective in creating change, it can also contribute to a wider understanding within your sector around which types of intervention are most successful, and which approaches are worth promoting and replicating.

A crucial feature of understanding ‘what works’ is being able to identify what does not work. As well as providing evidence of success, measuring your impact will also tell your organisation something about which areas of work are unsuccessful, and why. Communicating honestly and openly about failure, as well as success, will spread the benefit of this learning, helping the sector as a whole to become more successful. It will also send a clear message to funders and commissioners about your organisation’s commitment to evidencing, and increasing its impact.

This criterion is fully met if:

The way you present your findings acknowledges and explains any negative or unplanned outcomes that you discovered through impact measurement.

What next?

If you’ve met this criterion in full, you could improve your practice by…

  • Acknowledging alternative explanations for success

In addition to reporting on negative and unexpected outcomes, acknowledging alternative explanations for your organisation’s successes will provide a more balanced and useful account of your impact, which can make a more useful contribution to your sector’s understanding about ‘what works’.

  • Commenting on the extent to which your findings reflect existing research into ‘what works’

If there is existing research into work that is similar to yours, commenting on the way in which your findings tie in with this body of evidence will add useful depth to the way you communicate your impact.

Resources for this section

Feeding back your findings

The American Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) have produced useful guidance on designing an evaluation reporting and communications strategy. This short document covers how to build a plan for disseminating your findings, as well as how to present your information clearly in different formats (written report, oral presentation etc.) It also covers more creative techniques for feeding back your findings, such as workshops, poster sessions, and webinars.

Using your findings to improve the way you work

Evaluation Support Scotland have produced a series of Support Guides to help third sector organisations make the most of impact measurement. Support Guide 4.1, Using what you learn from evaluation, describes some useful ways of making the most of your impact measurement findings.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have also produced a general guide for using evaluation evidence. Chapter 7 of the UNDP’s Handbook on Monitoring and Evaluating for Results, Knowledge and Learning: Use of Evaluative Evidence includes a checklist of what constitutes a good knowledge product and a checklist for improving evaluation feedback.

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