Organisation: The Robertson Trust
The Robertson Trust1 is the largest independent grant-making trust in Scotland. We aim to improve the quality of life and realise the potential of people and communities in Scotland.
We recognise the importance of evidence-informed decision making and have focused on this through some of our partnership funding programmes. Despite this we know that we’ve not always made the best use of the monitoring reports that we receive through our Open Grants programme.
As part of our recent strategic review, our Trustees felt that we needed a more consistent approach to evaluation and impact measurement across the whole organisation. This will not only enable us to see what difference we are making through our funding but will also be used to inform internal decisions, including future grant-making and strategic priorities for The Trust.
Resources and products used
In order to strengthen our impact practice The Trust created a new post to develop and implement new approaches for impact measurement across the organisation: Evidence and Learning Officer. We all recognised that this can’t be done by one person alone though. If impact measurement is going to be truly embedded it needs to involve a range of people at different levels across the organisation. As a result, different teams and individuals have been involved in the planning process and will continue to play a key role in the implementation of any new approaches we adopt.
We also knew that learning from others outside of The Trust would be essential in helping us to develop a useful measurement framework. To enable this in 2015/16 we took part in the Inspiring Impact Embedding Impact Practice Group which was facilitated by Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS)2. Through this group we were supported to use the Measuring Up! self-assessment tool, which helped us to identify where the strengths and gaps were in our impact practice. This informed our action plan for developing an evaluation framework for the organisation.
One of the main challenges we’ve faced is separating The Trust’s outcomes from the outcomes of our grant-holders and identifying ways of measuring our impact through the activities of others. We soon realised that other funders and intermediaries on the Inspiring Impact group were experiencing similar issues so talking through our ideas with them and exploring potential solutions was invaluable.
Challenges and results
We haven’t finalised our evaluation framework as it is being developed in tandem with our new Strategy and that won’t be fully implemented until August 2016. Despite this we have already seen improvements in how The Trust approaches evaluation and uses learning internally and externally. For example, we have employed staff with a specific remit for evaluation and learning, and evaluation is being discussed at meetings where it wasn’t mentioned previously.
We’re also in the process of developing an Innovation and Learning Strategy. This will set out the approaches we will take and priorities we will have to develop our knowledge and evidence as a result of our grant-making. It will also cover how we will use this evidence to support capacity within the third sector and to inform policy and practice.
Actions and impact
There are three key areas where The Robertson Trust hopes to benefit from good impact practice:
• Improve our grant-giving: We will use the evidence we gather to better understand where our funding goes, where there are gaps and what difference is made (or not) as a result of our funding. This will help us to improve the impact and effectiveness of our grant-making, enabling us to make best use of our resources.
• Improve service delivery to the beneficiaries of those we fund: Alongside our traditional grant-making approaches we also provide internal and external support to grant-holders in order to promote and support self-evaluation. Through this we hope to increase the sustainability of third sector organisations by helping them develop self-evaluation skills and embed the learning to improve their own services.
• Inform wider policy and practice: We will use evaluation across our teams to gather evidence about what works, what doesn’t and why. We will then share this in an accessible way with relevant stakeholders to inform wider policy and practice.
We also hope that embedding impact measurement within The Trust and sharing the learning from our journey will help us to strengthen our relationship with our grantholders. After all, if we’re asking them to understand the difference they make it’s only right that we can show we’re doing the same.
We aim to only collect information which we will use for ours and others’ learning. To ensure that our evaluation framework – including methods for gathering data, indicators, and how we use the information – remains useful and proportionate we have identified opportunities to review our processes. We will then adapt our approaches as appropriate. We also plan to revisit the Measuring Up! tool so that we can continue to monitor and improve our impact practice; making sure it is embedded across all areas of The Robertson Trust.
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