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Blog - The value of evaluation from a commissioner's perspective

In our third blog to celebrate Evaluation Support Scotland’s 10th year Mark McGeachie, National Lead for Co-production and Community Capacity Building – Joint Improvement Team [1], reflects on the value of self-evaluation from a commissioner’s perspective.

‘Why self-evaluation is important?’

“How do we know we are making a positive difference if we don’t take the time to continually evaluate ourselves and our work...?”

Nevertheless, there are still people who would say that time spent evaluating is time spent away from actually doing the things that are making a difference in people’s lives. My own perspective has forever been influenced by the statement above which was made to me in a conversation many years ago and has stuck with me. Simply speaking, why should we be doing something if we don’t know if and how it is working?

From a moral perspective, we should all feel compelled to understand if and how we are making a positive difference in the lives of the people using public services. However, in times of decreasing budgets and increasing need, we all – in every sector: public, private and third – should build in evaluation to our work so that we can confidently say we are using our resources as well as we possibly can and that means self-evaluation is incredibly important.

From a national perspective, there is an increasing emphasis on outcomes… The newly established health and social care partnerships will be required to create strategic plans and commission services based on how they will contribute to the national health and wellbeing outcomes. The forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill proposes that the National Outcomes Framework will be embedded in statute to give only two examples of this emphasis.

I would say that self-evaluation and outcomes focussed working go hand-in-glove. How can we really be working towards outcomes if we do not embed self-evaluation into everyday practice? How else will we know if we are making progress towards our outcomes and what to change if we are not?

The work which ESS does with third sector organisations to demystify evaluation and make it practical and real is incredibly important. There are many types of evidence and data which can be used to evaluate the work which we do – it is not all about surveys and randomised control trials. There are third sector organisations, big and small, across Scotland which are leading the way in capturing information in their everyday tasks which help to indicate progress (or not) towards outcomes. The national Reshaping Care for Older People programme saw examples across Scotland where the knowledge and skills in the third sector around self-evaluation were considered exemplars in their Change Fund Partnerships as they demonstrated the difference being made in the lives of older people.

Only through working in open and equal partnership between sectors, can this wealth of evaluation expertise and practical knowledge be fully understood and influence policy and commissioning decisions. We are definitely making progress but we still have further to travel on self-evaluation if we are all truly to become outcomes focussed.

Our thematic learning programmes give third sector organisations and funders the opportunity to learn together through self-evaluation about what works well in a specific filed. For more information about our thematic learning programmes click here.

 [1] The Joint Improvement Team (JIT) is a uniquely positioned strategic improvement partnership between the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland, CoSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and the Third, Independent and Housing Sectors. We are governed by the Joint Improvement Partnership Board which includes representatives of each sector.

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