Blog: Impact practice in a world of competing priorities

By Aongus O’Keeffe is Programme Leader at Inspiring Impact Northern Ireland 

We all know it yet we all struggle to do it. Making an impact and improving the lives of people is the ultimate reason all charities, social enterprises and the funders who support them, exist. Yet our day to day energy gets sucked into other arguably less significant tasks. So why do we spend so little time focused on impact and  much of it submerged in tasks which will not help us determine what difference we are making?

I don’t think there’s a simple answer and like all the social problems that our sector is trying to address the reality is very complex. But ultimately, the complex layers of culture within our organisations are what determine where our time and energy is invested. This culture is not something that is easily shifted or changed – it requires significant leadership at a variety of levels as well as: time, resources, skills, understanding and a good sprinkle of confidence. In a nutshell it requires leadership for impact.

Leadership for impact, in the first instance is about seeing the value and importance of putting impact at the core of everything an organisation does. It is about helping to develop a culture that values learning and improving over everything else. It is about acknowledging the important role that funders have to play while not being distracted from your purpose by the pressures of their funding requirements. It’s about never losing sight of the bigger picture and making sure all your work  is feeding that purpose.

Inspiring Impact came into being for this very purpose and developed a programme of freely available supportive resources to help organisations and funders build a culture of impact. It  supports the sector and its funders to ensure impact isn’t just an add-on or an afterthought – rather it becomes built into their DNA from the outset. This is called Good Impact Practice and comes in the context of a proliferation of impact measurement tools in all shapes and guises and a world where ‘solution peddlers’ have evolved sophisticated strategies of convincing unsuspecting charities and influencers to invest in their “silver bullet”.

The reality is there are no such “silver bullets” and it’s not all about ‘measurement’ or the latest, in vogue, all dancing methodology – it’s about good leadership laying solid foundations, and applying core principles and practice that inform all of your work. Only then will you have a solid footing and basis for identifying the measurement methodology that will best meet your needs.

The importance of good governance has been reinforced through charity sector scandals in recent years but good impact practice must be given equal weighting if the sector is to re-establish its reputation and public trust.

So, in summary, don’t fall into the impact measurement marketing trap, become a leader for impact and make impact practice your priority.  Get started on your Impact Journey today.

Posted in | Comments Off on Blog: Impact practice in a world of competing priorities

Visionary sub-sector partnership: Early challenges

Shared measurement 

Visionary—membership organisation for local sight loss charities—is working with NCVO Charities Evaluation Services and NPC to develop shared outcomes in measurement in the sight loss sector. This Inspiring Impact sub-sector partnership is still in its early stages—starting in January 2017. As we find out what sight loss charities need, we’re discovering some key challenges that we feel would be useful to share. Meeting these challenges will enable us to develop the best possible measurement for the sight loss sector.

Balancing the needs of charities and commissioners

A key challenge for any shared measurement system is balancing the competing needs of the charities themselves and of those who commission them. Many charities will be familiar with the need to manage the requirements of multiple funders. Often, these drive organisations’ impact practice, rather than the organisation defining outcomes that are relevant to its service users, mission and values. The work of sight loss charities often spans the gap between the NHS and social care, meaning they manage the competing priorities and requirements of local authorities and, clinical commissioning groups. Shared measurement was welcomed as a way for the sector to define its own outcomes, taking into account the requirements of commissioners but not dominated by them. People that we spoke to in the sector were very excited about the prospect of shared measurement being able to provide evidence of the need for services and making the case for those services to continue to be funded.

Measuring difference, not just delivery

Many of the organisations that have engaged with us so far in this project collect good data on their outputs but struggle to measure their outcomes. This is beginning to change, partly as a result of previous work done by Visionary and partly as a result of changes in the funding landscape. More organisations are collecting data on their outcomes. However, there are ongoing difficulties with measuring outcomes, especially as interventions may be one-off with little opportunity for follow-up. This is one area where shared measurement framework and tools might be particularly helpful.

The needs of smaller organisations

Similar with other sectors, we have found that in general those organisations that have engaged with us have been larger and better resourced, and are already reviewing and improving their impact practice. Smaller organisations with fewer paid staff (less than 5), who are at earlier stages in their impact practice, are, not surprisingly, harder to reach, yet these stand to benefit most from shared measurement. Larger organisations can therefore drive the development of frameworks and tools, but these have to be designed sensitively to be usable by the very smallest and least well-resourced charities.

What next?

Over the next few months we will be working with five Visionary member organisations to develop a shared measurement framework. We’ll be starting by doing ‘Measuring Up!’ jointly with them and building the framework from there. It’s going to be an exciting journey with the potential to transform impact practice across the sector. We hope to create a greater sense of unity and collaboration amongst organisations who are all working towards the same goal of improving the lives of people with sight loss.

Posted in | Comments Off on Visionary sub-sector partnership: Early challenges

Blog: Youth Music’s top ten tips for grant-giving

Youth Music shared ten tips for other grant-giving organisations who are looking to focus on impact:

  1. Use a theory of change. Youth Music found the theory of change process to be very useful in setting out their overall aims and their outcomes. This now sits behind all of their grant-making.
  2. Get buy in from the whole organisation. A number of factors had led to an organisational shift, including buy in from the senior leadership team. They were keen to emphasise that the shift towards becoming a learning organisation has been a ‘massive undertaking’ and therefore support from leadership was a prerequisite.
  3. Grantee training. They felt that the outcomes training had reaped many benefits. By building the skills of grantees, Youth Music simultaneously got buy in from them. Grantees were receptive to the training: it allowed them to meet the team, develop their evaluation plans, meet other grantees and to feel part of a network.
  4. Patience. Keen to highlight patience as a virtue:

“There’s a need to be patient as well in terms of how long that process has taken and to get to where we are now, and to see how long it has taken the sector to be more receptive to that.”

They recommend that other organisations build in the necessary time to undertake evaluation as it is ‘fundamental to the work you do.’ They advise: ‘Don’t side-line it. It takes time to do it well.’

  1. Celebrate successes. Youth Music advised that others thinking of embarking on a similar process should try to make sure they celebrate the successes along the way both internally and externally.
  2. Consistent messaging. Ensuring that you have the same messaging throughout all of your processes and engagement with grantees, staff, grantees and any other stakeholders is an essential feature of embedding this change.
  3. Embedding the learning function in grants officers’ roles. Building this approach into the job role of grants and learning officers has been a key feature to bring about an organisational shift. Carol and Nick felt that the entire organisation has been ‘upskilled … in terms of having an analytical perspective.’
  4. Be open about how the data is used. They take the time to let grantees know what happens to the data they present. They explain the process and how the data is compared to Youth Music’s framework and the other work they do, and how it informs future decision making.
  5. Budget for it. Advising grantees to be aware that evaluation does have a cost and that they should build it into their funding applications. Larger grants may also need external evaluation.
  6. Start small. Take small steps to start the process and build from there.

This blog was taken from a case study written by Sarah Menzies from NCVO Charities Evaluation Services, in collaboration with Carol Reid and Nick Wilsdon, programme director and learning and evaluation manager respectively at Youth Music.

Check out the case study for more information on Youth Music’s impact journey and what they learned along the way.

Nick also wrote a blog for the ACF website on Changing Impact Practice: From accountability to strategic learning

Posted in | Comments Off on Blog: Youth Music’s top ten tips for grant-giving

Blog: Impact measurement—a social activity

Lucy de Las Casas, NPC and Patty Lozano-Casal, ESS share their learning from Inspiring Impact’s first sub-sector partnership with Sported. 

Inspiring Impact recently completed its first ever sub-sector partnership, which involved Sported—an umbrella organisation which works with community sports groups in transforming the lives of disadvantaged young people, NPC, and Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS). Sub-sector partnerships are delivered by Inspiring Impact in partnership with voluntary organisations that have reach in particular sub-sectors (in this case, community sport). The aim is to enhance impact practice throughout these sub-sectors.

In the first sub-sector partnership, Inspiring Impact supported Sported to run a pilot in England and Scotland to strengthen impact practice by creating a skilled group of impact champions who can:

  • share knowledge;
  • build the capacity of groups they work with;
  • and make use of Inspiring Impact and other resources.

Sported members were supported by a coach and had access to a peer support network through this ‘Fit for Impact’ programme of work.

The review at the end of the project caused us to reflect on the way impact measurement is often thought of as a technical activity. And in contrast the thing that struck us about the reflections of people engaged in this project, was that the two elements were most valued were the social—the interaction with a coach and the access to a network of peers. Nothing to do with tools, scales, glossaries or jargon, but the time spent with other people talking about measurement. In particular, participants valued the time a coach spent with others in their organisation, helping others to understand its importance and value.

This brought home to us that impact measurement is in part, a social activity, not the purely technical activity that it’s positioned as. It’s not about a number cruncher who sits alone wading through data and providing figures. It is a method of enquiry, and enquiry requires interaction. You have to talk to people to gather the data. You have to talk about what you want to know before you analyse the data. You need to discuss the data and interpret  it. And then there’s the process of deciding what to do with it, and changes that are made as a result.

For impact practice to be meaningful, every member of staff from across a charity needs to be engaged in it. They need to be asking the right questions and want to engage with what the data tells them, and crucially they need to be willing to act on the back of their learning. Peer organisations can provide a great network of support and advice to each other, challenging practice where appropriate and sharing insights about ‘what works’ in impact measurement. And where these gather around a common issue, user group or need—as in the case of Sported—is much the better and more valuable.

Read the full Sub-sector partnership review

Posted in | Comments Off on Blog: Impact measurement—a social activity

Blog: Working with volunteers in impact practice

 

Inspiring Impact ran and live streamed an event on 2nd February 2017 that focused on the benefits of working with volunteers to measure impact practice. Three of our Impact Champs presented on their own experiences:

Based on their presentations, they have pulled together their top 11 tips for working with volunteers:

  1. Take a volunteering plus approach – build longer-term relationships with volunteers and support them to develop their skills. This might involve providing additional training or opportunities,where possible.
  2. Make sure the volunteers that you recruit have values that align with your own, and understand the challenges many voluntary organisations can face, particularly around time or skillcapacity.
  3.  Consider how you ‘match’ a volunteer to a group, based on their interests, geography etc. A correct match of learning styles and interests can be crucial in building a trusting working relationship. This is particularly important when it comes to impact practice, which may involve tricky discussions around what doesn’t work as well as what does.
  4. Allow volunteers to become an ambassador for your programme/organisation and help you with recruiting and training new volunteers.
  5. Volunteers can play the role of a non-judgmental, critical friend bringing with them a fresh outside perspective. They help create the much-needed space for staff to reflect on high-level strategic issues.
  6. Don’t shy away from recruiting volunteers with a limited knowledge of impact practice. Those with a strong skill-base in strategic or business planning, communications or data analysis can be incredibly valuable, and you can provide the training required to position this within an impact practice context.
  7. Ensure a consistent approach and language is used amongst all volunteers. Provide a glossary of key terms, or ‘how we explain’ certain concepts to avoid conflicting methods of delivery.
  8. Recognise, and make the most of the skills, talents and motivation that volunteers bring to any project. Map their skills into your work and see where they are most likely to make the biggest contribution. Give volunteers a choice on what they work on and invite them to contribute towards the shaping and improvement of your programme/services.
  9.  Practice what you preach and make sure you know what success looks like. Are the necessary feedback and data collection mechanisms in place to track how the volunteers are making a difference? Importantly, let volunteers know the impact of their work, and celebrate this! If they’re not involved in direct service delivery this is particularly important as they may not be able to see the immediate impact of their work.
  10. Maintain regular communications with the volunteers and with the groups they support. This helps to maintain engagement, and to ensure that everything is on track.
  11. Volunteers are often best involved in projects, services or programmes that are already well-established, rather than processes that your organisation is trying out for the first time. If you’re trying something new, you might want to do a mini pilot with paid staff before bringing in volunteers.

If you like what you’ve read, watch the full event for more insights on working with volunteers.

If you have any further questions for any of the speakers, they’re very happy for you to get in touch with any questions. Their email addresses are included above.

Special thanks go to Dr Jurgen Grotz from NCVO Institute of Volunteering Research for chairing the event.

Posted in | Comments Off on Blog: Working with volunteers in impact practice

Blog: Impact Practice is a journey

Nick Wilsdon, Learning & Evaluation Manager at the National Foundation for Youth Music shares his experience of the process of successfully embedding a strategic learning approach to evaluation. He highlights the journey of change in his organisation, and concludes with helpful tips for anyone embarking on a similar journey. 

Youth Music is a national charity, investing in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances. Our projects help young people to develop musically, but they also yield positive personal and social outcomes too. At any one time, we will have between 350 and 400 active projects, working with somewhere in the region of 75,000 children and young people annually.

Evidenced-based funding practice sits at the heart of our organisation. Impact is central to our business plan, and evaluation and learning are a crucial to our mission. We are dedicated to measuring the impact of our work, disseminating learning which serves to inform our funding practice and to inform music-making practice in the sector through the generation of evidence based resources and outputs.

MOVING FROM ACCOUNTABILITY TO STRATEGIC LEARNING

Prior to the inaugural meeting of the UK Evaluation Roundtable in 2014, the Institute of Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) published a framing paper which posited three main uses for evaluation: accountability, demonstrating impact and strategic learning. Over Youth Music’s short history, it is possible to trace a trajectory that runs from using evaluation for accountability purposes, through to demonstrating impact and towards strategic learning. Our first monitoring forms from around the turn of the century sought to identify if funding had been allocated in line with funding agreementsin short, accountability.

By 2008, we had established an internal Research & Evaluation department, who introduced an outcomes approach and published our first annual impact report shortly after. It was clear at this stage that we were using evaluation to demonstrate impact and understand how our funding had made a difference.

By 2012, we had absorbed this ethos into the roles of those managing grants through the creation of the Grants & Learning Officer role during an organisational restructure, embedding learning within the management of grants. We also had established a consistent outcomes framework across our programme. At the time of writing, we are in a position to use evaluation in (nearly!) real time to inform the decisions we make, and we regularly adapt our strategies in response to the changing circumstances around us; strategic learning has become a very real part of how we operate as an organisation.

MIND-SET IS KEY TO ACHIEVING THIS

There are numerous practical guides about adopting impact practice (see for example NCVO’s excellent wiki on How to build an impact culture or NPC’s equally good Four pillar approach) and as many organisations will attest, this is not something that happens overnight. Whilst envisioning significant organisational change may appear straightforward on the surface, enacting it involves substantial organisational commitment. Moreover, organisational buy-in is a pre-requisite to successfully building an impact culture, so it is vital to engage senior leaders, trustees and colleagues in the process. Resources like Inspiring Impact’s Measuring Up! tool provide an excellent framework to reflect on your organisation’s current impact practice with colleagues, and can help you identify and prioritise areas for development. Highlighting the long-term benefits is essential in order to gain the necessary buy-in to overcome the challenges in the short-term.

HERE’S WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE IN PRACTICE

On a day to day basis, our priorities for handling information are driven by the three guiding principles which are crucial to strategic learning (as highlighted by IVAR):

  1. Asking the right questions and getting the right data
  2. Structuring the work to enable regular use of data
  3. Effectively processing and using the data

Recognising that we are a relatively small charity, with access to a comparatively substantial volume of information from our grant holders alone, foregrounds the necessity for efficiency. Likewise, our portfolio contains many small, grassroots organisations often with limited resources. As such it is essential that we collect quantitative and qualitative data that is focused on the questions that we need to answer in line with our business planning.

We also seek to make our data as portable as we possibly can. Our quantitative data is published annually and we are currently developing mechanisms to run automated reports which allow for more frequent and detailed analysis. By coding against our outcomes framework in qualitative analysis software, we have created an index and searchable database of the rich range of experiences of all those involved in our projects. This has allowed us to ground everything from internal strategy documents to external guidance and resources in our evidence base, ensuring it is relevant to our stakeholders.

BUILDING A CYCLE OF LEARNING WILL HELP IMPROVE YOUR IMPACT

An openness to learning helps nurture an organisational ethos that is open to change. By mapping the ebb and flow of knowledge both internally between teams and externally across stakeholders, inefficiencies and missed opportunities can readily be highlighted. For example, we noticed that our Grants & Learning Officers’ daily consumption of information through direct contact with our portfolio was sizeable, yet only a fraction of this was formally captured.

By recognising our Grants & Learning Officers as the gatekeepers of this information, and adopting an organisational approach to learning (see Crossan et al.) we devised a light-touch mechanism to support the individual intuition, team interpretation, and organisational integration in a ‘feedforward’ process. Our Grants & Learning Officers meet on a regular basis to discuss issues of interest to the organisation, distilling key information for dissemination to the wider staff team in all staff sessions. The resultant documentation is indexed for internal use, and our Communications Team prepare extracts for external distribution.

This process allows for the transfer of intelligence beyond the individual, ensuring that key information exists beyond the each member of the team.

As Crossan et al. identify (there is a useful diagram on page 11 of the piece) the process works in both directions; the feedforward process supports exploration (i.e. assimilation of new learning) and feedback processes allow exploitation (i.e. making use of what has already been learned). By supporting learning across the organisation, nurturing the tension between exploration and exploitation, it is possible build an impact culture that becomes rewarding and close to self-sustaining. Through this process, organisations can build an openness to change which ultimately supports strategic renewal.

KEY TIPS FOR YOUR IMPACT JOURNEY

  1. Map the flow of knowledgeFind out: Who has access to what information? Who does not have access to beneficial information? Who are the gatekeepers of knowledge? How can you easily share that knowledge both internally and externally?
  2. Engage your senior leadership team and trustees in the processDemonstrate your assets and highlight the untapped potential
  3. Reflect on your organisations impact practiceTools like Inspiring Impact’s Measuring Up!can help identify strengths and highlight areas for improvement
  4. Optimise periods of changeSignificant organisational changes can be stressful times, but they can also provide opportunities to lay the foundations for new ways of working.
  5. Seek out light-touch ways of capturing knowledgeHold team and all staff sharing sessions and think about the potential audiences for all information to maximise its potential
  6. Nurture a culture of learningand allow the organisation ownership over it
  7. Create resources in accessible placesand refer people to them at every opportunity. Index your data where possible, and create structure that allows you to cut it in many different ways. And if you use a tool or resource that other organisations could benefit from, put it up on the Inspiring Impact Impact hub!
  8. Ensure that you have the appropriate skills within your staff resources to process, interpret and analyse the data you collect.
Posted in | Comments Off on Blog: Impact Practice is a journey

Blog: Learning matters—make it a habit, not an event

 The Big Lottery FundPatty Lozano-Casal, (second left) Inspiring Impact lead for Evaluation Support Scotland, reflects on Principle 8 of The Code of Good Impact Practice: ‘Actively share your impact plans, methods, findings and learning’.  

In it she draws on her two weeks at the Big Lottery Fund (the Fund) on a learning exchange with the Policy and Learning Team (find out about what Áine from the Fund got up to when she went to ESS in her blog). 

What comes to your mind when someone mentions ‘playing the lottery’? (Okay, apart from ‘please, let the winner be me!’, even if you didn’t buy a ticket…).

Having worked at ESS for over 5 years I thought I knew quite a bit about what the fund does and the difference it makes to people and communities in the UK; however, as Socrates once said, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’it turns out I only knew the tip of the iceberg!  On the theme of knowing, then, here’s how to become a learning organisation:

  1. Listen to, learn from, act on and facilitate the things that matter to the people and organisations you work with. The Fund and ESS are ‘learning organisations’ that aim to be catalysts for others. ESS champions evaluation, evidence and learning of ‘what works’ to inform practice and influence policy. The Fund is open to conversations on how they can best achieve their mission of bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need.
  2. Remember that policy and learning are two sides of the same coin. Policies set out the direction of travel; it is the implementation of those policies (ie, practice) that changes the lives of people and communities (for better but sometimes, unfortunately, for worse!). In order for policies to effectively address real issues for real people we need to listen to and learn from their experiences.
  3. Don’t forget: Everyone has a story: ESS supports third sector organisations so they can measure and report on the difference they make and what they learn in the process (positive and negative!) to funders. Funders like the Fund use third sector evidence and learning to inform their grant-making processes to ensure that every penny goes to where’s most needed.
  4. It’s not just about giving out money: Crucial to community building and supporting local people and groups is to enable them to think about what they want to do in their community and how they can make that happen; the Fund’s Our Place programme is all about this.
  5. Learning happens at all levels of an organisation: Organisations are made up of people who not only bring different skill sets, knowledge and expertise but engage with stakeholders at different levels and for different reasons. People should be in the lead in improving their lives and communities.
  6. Organisational learning is key to improving practice (but it can be challenging) for large organisations like the Funds or small organisations like ESS. Organisational learning requires leadership, time, skills and capacity but also processes that enable learning.
  7. Start small and grow: You don’t have to wait until you finish a programme to harness and share your learning in a lengthy report; instead, share your learning in small bites from the outset.
  8. Horses for courses: People have different learning styles. Some prefer to learn from images, others from words; some people prefer to learn in groups, while others prefer to work alone. Think about how your audience is likely to learn and adapt your ‘products’ to their needs. Be creative with your learning.
  9. Paralysed by learning? Just do it! Struggling to get started? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Being a ‘learning organisation’ is not something you occasionally do; it’s a lifestyle. You can start by making small changes to your practice, but just make sure you start!

Remember that learning is like any habit; it takes time to adopt it. Just don’t give up!

Further reading:

Interested in other principles? Check out The Code of Good Impact Practice – report and summary!

Want to know how to self-assess your impact practice, including how you share impact learning?  Measuring Up! for small organisations can help you get started.

Posted in | Comments Off on Blog: Learning matters—make it a habit, not an event

Impact measurement tools: Have your say

When you go away how do you decide where to stay? Do you go with the cheapest option or look at how many stars a hotel has got? Do you just stay in the same place every time or insist on somewhere new? Do you rely on tips from family and friends, look at the average ratings on TripAdvisor or delve a little deeper and read the comments? No doubt it’s generally a mixture but something more than the blurb from the hotel or holiday company is needed to seal the deal.

Funnily enough, you tell us that there’s actually little difference when you are making decisions about which tools and systems you use to measure and improve your impact. That’s why we are keen to crowdsource organisations’ experiences so we can share them and allow others to find the stories that resonate with them.

If you have used any of the tools listed on our Impact Hub (or others like them that aren’t listed) we’d love it if you could take a few minutes to provide some quick feedback so we can let people know (anonymously if you prefer) what they’re really like, good, bad or ugly. You can access the survey from this link. Thank you.

Posted in | Comments Off on Impact measurement tools: Have your say

Good Impact Practice: a basis for building and maintaining trust

James Magowan is the Inspiring Impact lead for ACF. Here he reflects on issues raised at the recent ACF conference—which had ‘Trust’ as its theme. He explains why he  sees good impact practice as a significant contributing factor in building and maintaining trust between charities and funders.

David Emerson (Chief Executive, ACF) in his opening address to the ACF conference set the tone of the event by posing two big questions:

  • How do we retain and strengthen trust, and overcome what threatens and erodes it?
  • How can we hold, harness and deploy trust?

Many speakers went on to present answers to these questions.

We should not just want more trust, but rather we should trust intelligently, looking for honesty, competence and reliability—was Onora O’Neill’s view. Drawing from her expertise as Reith Lecturer and Ted Talk presenter on the topic of Trust, she highlighted the need for evidence relating to honesty, competence and reliability to be expressed transparently and to be well communicated.

Questions and contributions from the audience identified challenges in building a two-way trusting relationship – including addressing perceived and actual power imbalances, and improving the credibility of evidence.  Some stressed that  funders and charities have a responsibility to demonstrate trustworthiness more widely (among the general public, and with the private and statutory sectors) and hence to build trust in the role of civil society.  And it was recognised that trustworthiness, like social capital, naturally erodes and must be constantly maintained.

Dawn Auswick, Big Lottery Fund Chief Executive, warned that, in a world where actions are ‘done to’ rather than ‘owned by’, institutional frameworks tend to focus on accountability and compliance, which implies scepticism and  mistrust.  She went on to suggest that ‘foundations need to question their leadership role in a creating a funding ecology rather than a bureaucracy’.

It is this point about accountability and compliance that is the reason impact practice is sometimes perceived as the antithesis of trust. That demonstrating your impact is about showing you’re definitely doing what you’re saying you’re doing. But I would argue  that good impact practice is not good impact practice unless it is founded on trust.

Good impact practice does not focus solely on the achievement of proven or anticipated change, rather it puts learning and improving at its heart.  The Funders’ Principles and Drivers of Good Impact Practice clearly state that any approach to impact measurement must be based on trust, honesty and integrity. It is essential that grantees are made to feel confident in articulating the difference they intend to make and the difference they actually make. They should feel comfortable communicating truthfully what works and why, and what doesn’t work and why not.

This enables both parties to responsibly invest their resources, learn from practice, and improve, thus both contributing to more effective social change.  Using the tool Measuring Up! is a useful starting point for both charities and funders to assess their impact practice and to establish an impact approach that empowers, informs, and improves the work they do.

Good impact practice helps both funders and grantees demonstrate their trustworthiness – that is to say, their honesty, competence and reliability.  In response to David’s questions – good impact practice is one way to help foundations retain, strengthen, harness and deploy trust, and overcome what threatens and erodes it.

Posted in | Comments Off on Good Impact Practice: a basis for building and maintaining trust

The power of peer support

by Patty Lozano-Casal, Evidence into Policy and Practice Manager at Evaluation Support Scotland

On my way to work recently I found myself reflecting on the idea of ‘peer support’. I remembered a personal anecdote that my colleague, Emma, shared with me. She told me about a time when she took her children to a playground and one of her daughters got frustrated because she couldn’t swing.  Emma, being a supportive mother told her child: ‘If you say the words “I can do it” it works like magic. Try it!’  With this in mind the child tried again, succeeding at the first attempt.  At a later date, Emma heard her daughter repeat her words to another child, ‘If you say the words “I can do it” it works like magic’.

Peer support doesn’t just happen when we are children. Humans, and some animals such as elephants, often offer and seek support. But why? According to a review of more than 1000 studies carried out by Nesta, peer support can help us feel more knowledgeable, confident and happy, and less isolated and alone. So I wonder, why do we carry on evaluating our work in isolation from our peers?

At Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) we believe in the power of peer support, which is why we work collaboratively with organisations, combining their expertise with ours to generate evaluation approaches they can own, develop and run with.

In fact, one of the many outcomes achieved by the Evaluation Exchange programme that ESS ran with Iriss in 2013 is that ‘participants actively expressed the benefits of peer support in helping them work through the challenges of self-evaluation.’ Iriss used this and other learning to produce the illustrated booklet, Supporting peer support: Thoughts for people wanting to set up, run or participate in a peer support group.

ESS and Iriss aren’t alone in this. For example, Inspiring Impact’s Code of Good Impact Practice highlights ‘involving others in your impact practice’ and ‘actively sharing impact plans, methods, findings and learning’ with peers and other stakeholders as key principles to follow when focusing on impact.

Inspiring Impact also encourages funders and commissioners to create and nurture a culture of peer support among grantees. Funders like the ALLIANCE’s Self-Management Fund lead by example and advise grantees to avoid reinventing the wheel by asking funders to put them in touch with other organisations doing similar work. Sharing learning about what works in impact measurement with peers can lead to developing, designing and implementing shared approaches to impact measurement.

ESS bought into the value of peer support a long time ago, and we now run learning sets and working groups to decipher key evaluation challenges. We know it works, so we are taking a peer support approach to delivering the Inspiring Impact Scotland programme too. For example, we are facilitating an Embedding Impact Practice group. This collection of nine third-sector organisations meet every couple of months to share learning about what works in embedding impact practice in organisations. Cassy Rutherford from The Robertson Trust and other group members plan to share the learning with other Inspiring Impact Champions at an event this summer 2016.

So, if like me and other Inspiring Impact partners you are interested in taking the a peer support approach to embedding impact practice and evaluation in your organisation, why not become an Impact Champion? The initiative was set up by Inspiring Impact out of an awareness that often organisations get stuck about where to start with impact measurement, and using the Inspiring Impact resources. Impact Champions can provide support with this by reaching out to their network and partner organisations to assist with good impact practice.

Or, if you work in Scotland, you may wish to join our informal Inspiring Impact Champions Network. Not sure? You can always just join the Inspiring Impact mailing list to keep updated of what your peers are doing—a simple way to get involved, and join the peer support wagon!

Posted in | Comments Off on The power of peer support