Mair Rigby, Inspiring Impact lead for Wales at WCVA, blogs about the issues many organisations are facing when it comes to impact measurement.
I was delighted to be invited to speak about Inspiring Impact at the Co-Production Network for Wales Conference on 6 June.
The Co-Production Network is an ‘Impact Champion’ in Wales, so it was great to have the opportunity to meet their members, talk about the project, and get some feedback on the support organisations want with developing their impact practice.
I was asked to give a ‘Lightning Talk’, which involves creating 20 slides and speaking for six minutes while the slides change automatically every 20 seconds. No pressure!
This was followed by an ‘Ask Me Anything’ (#AMA) session, during which attendees could come and, well, ask me anything about impact!
Related links: WCVA is the Wales partner for Inspiring Impact – find out more about how to get involved on their website.
The Lightning Talk was really fun and, afterwards, my #AMA session filled up quickly with people who wanted to talk about impact.
We had a very lively conversation about everything from writing outcomes, to evidence, tools and resources and relationships with funders.
Three key themes quickly emerged from the discussion and I thought it would be useful to share with them with the impact practice community.
1. More support for small and very small voluntary organisations
The majority of the organisations at the #AMA session were small charities and voluntary groups.
They were eager to develop their impact practice but felt that doing this raises particular challenges for smaller organisations in relation to skills, capacity and resources.
Thinking about impact takes time and there was a feeling that resources are often more suitable for larger organisations.
Small organisations wanted information and resources tailored to their context, which is often a group of dedicated volunteers, few (if any) staff, and little time or money to carry out work beyond delivery.
When asked what would help, attendees suggested more ‘Do it yourself’ and simple ‘How to’ guidance, more free training opportunities, and the development of shared outcomes for organisations working in specific sectors.
2. More creative approaches to evaluation – that centre the needs of beneficiaries
It was felt by the people I spoke to that evaluation practice has tended to be designed to meet the needs of funders and organisations, rather than beneficiaries.
As a result, evaluation can feel burdensome or meaningless to the people we work with. Some organisations felt that their beneficiaries were being over-researched with multiple requests that they complete monitoring forms or take part in interviews.
There were also concerns that people could just be ticking boxes to get the forms done which has implications for the quality of the data.
This raises interesting questions about power dynamics. Who does “evaluation” really service? How could we go about co-producing our evaluation practices and developing creative approaches that feel meaningful and enjoyable for everyone?
3. Funders can do more to make impact measurement more manageable
It was clear from the discussion that organisational impact practice, especially for small organisations, is often designed with funder requirements in mind.
We might argue that organisations should develop their theories of change and measurement frameworks based on their own organisational goals, rather than what funders want.
But practically, it’s not at all surprising that small organisations, with limited capacity for ‘thinking time’, often prioritise the needs of funders.
Related link: read our ‘Sustainable Funding for the Third Sector’ report to find out what we’re doing to improve understanding of impact across the sector
Organisations wanted more support and buy-in from funders to enable them to be more creative and do things differently.
There were three main areas where organisations thought funders could help.
- Be more creative about what counts as “evidence”
- Place more value on learning to enable honest conversations about outcomes and impact
- Provide more funding for small organisations to develop their impact practice and embed it in their work – rather than just do an evaluation at the end
The feedback was very helpful for me and will inform our plans for Inspiring Impact activities over the next year.
I’d like to thank the Co-Production Network for inviting me and the attendees for sharing their experiences.
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