Mike Corcoran, Evaluation Specialist with Co-Production Network for Wales, outlines seven questions for meaningful evaluation of your services in a time of crisis.
Why do we evaluate our services?
To prove to our funders and supporters that we’re having an impact? Probably. To improve our services, by learning more about the impacts they achieve and the ways in which they achieve them? Absolutely. To support the building of strong and lasting relationships with those we support – based on shared trust, power and responsibility? If not, we should be!
Another way to think about this is to ask – why don’t we evaluate our services?
When evaluation is put on the back burner, it is often because time, money and resources are tight, in-house expertise is lacking, and when the priority is to deliver, deliver, deliver – evaluation will just have to wait. This is a tremendous missed opportunity.
When I last took part in an Inspiring Impact workshop, I talked about how, as evaluators, we are condemned to have an impact. We don’t work with data, we work with people, and behind every one of our data points is a unique individual, with feelings, experiences and a story to tell. Every time we evaluate our service, we give people the opportunity to tell their stories, in a way which is enriching and valuable to them – every time we don’t evaluate our service, we take that opportunity away.
In times of crisis, the temptation to leave evaluation until later is perhaps stronger than ever. But it is exactly in times like these that we need an even clearer understanding of the impacts we are having as the ground moves beneath our feet. It is in times like this that we are increasingly dependent on the experts by experience who use our services to guide us as we look to build new solutions to emerging and complex problems. And it is in times like this that those with the least control over their lives get the opportunity to tell their stories taken away.
Undertaking meaningful evaluation does not have to be complex, time consuming or come at the expense of service delivery. On the contrary, when done right, it will become an organic part of the service itself, directly enhancing the impacts which are achieved, and the relationships which underpin them.
Working with WCVA, we have developed ‘7 Simple Questions’ for meaningful evaluation in times of crisis. Intended as a starting point for anyone, even those completely new to evaluation, these questions can be used as private reflections, entry points to a conversation, items on a team meeting agenda, or developed into simple activities to take part in with your colleagues and the people you support. Each is aligned with a well-established and robust evaluation approach, and many great quality free resources are available online, from Inspiring Impact, BetterEvaluation and our own Co-Production Knowledge Base amongst many others, to help you put them into practice.
By routinely asking questions like these, and building upon them, over time meaningful, co-productive evaluation will become embedded into your organisational culture, and managing the long-term wellbeing of you, your organisation, and the people you support will always be at the heart of everything you do.
How do I make tomorrow better than yesterday?
By focusing on the simple things we can do to make things a little better for people each day, collectively over time we can achieve huge impacts. Questions like this are aligned with the reflective practice and action learning that is crucial to solve complex and emerging problems in real time.
What just happened?
Change is happening rapidly all around us and if we don’t capture what’s going on right now, invaluable learning could be lost forever. It is important that we maintain an accurate record of these changes as they are happening, so we can learn as much as possible from them in the future.
What is the best thing that happened this week?
By better understanding what is working well, and why, we are able to build on our successes and share them with more people, more of the time. Not only that, but reminding ourselves of the positives in tough times is an important part of managing our own wellbeing.
How do I feel?
Stopping to reflect on how we feel during times of increased stress and anxiety can provide deep insights into the impact the design and delivery of our services is having on us. We can’t look after others if we are not looking after ourselves.
How are you?
Asking ‘how are you?’ is not just politeness, it should be at the heart of what we do. Routinely providing opportunities for the experts by experience we support to share their feelings, whether face-to-face or remotely, is essential.
Understanding the changes our evolving services are bringing about is essential if we are to improve the lives of those we work with. Being given the freedom to tell our stories of change is empowering, and ensures all are actively involved in shaping service delivery, even at times of crises.
Who’s not here?
When services are placed under severe pressure, it is possible for some of those who use them to slip through the net. Often, it’s the people who need those services the most. Making ‘who’s not here?’ a routine reflection can ensure no one is left behind.
Mike works with organisations across Wales and around the world as an advisor on engagement and impact. He is a long-term associate of the Co-production Network for Wales, and led the development of the Network’s ‘Measuring What Matters’ evaluation tool.
Mike Corcoran was speaking as part of the WCVA Inspiring Impact webinar, ‘People are not data points’ on Wednesday 20 May 2020.’