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Blog: Part and parcel of all we do?

Jane Marryat writes about embedding evaluation using materials from the Part and parcel of all we do? workshop delivered at the Looking back Looking forward conference.

To thunderous applause at our Looking back Looking forward conference on May 14 in Edinburgh, Steven Marwick, ESS director recited his version of Victoria Wood’s famous song calling it ‘Let’s do it Let’s evaluate!’ (Here’s the link to view it).  Disguised by humour are the real challenges that organisations have when trying to show the difference they make.

In ESS’s recent research into the long term impact of evaluation support we discovered more about the challenges facing third sector organisations and funders in embedding evaluation.  Setting outcomes, having good systems to collect relevant data on indicators and ensuring staff understand the need and purpose of evaluation, and have the skills to complete evaluation is only part of the story. Embedding evaluation across an organisation takes time, resources and commitment.  Without enthusiastic leadership from trustees and management, systems to support staff to evaluate as an everyday task, having evaluation in strategic plans linked to national frameworks, evaluation can be side-lined until the inevitable funding report has to be written.  Organisational change can hinder the process.  We found that many organisations were challenged by organisational change.  Short term project funding created difficulty in retaining staff and can lead to a lack of consistency in evaluation, system break down, and evaluation knowledge and skills can be lost or new staff may not be trained.

The size of an organisation can also be a factor – larger organisations with a range of services across different sites may encounter challenges in implementing an organisational approach whilst smaller organisations may be reliant on lone isolated workers. 

At the conference breakout session ‘Part and parcel of all we do?’ we heard from Elaine Fox, ENeRGI about how they have embedded evaluation throughout the organisation and gave an idea of the challenges they have overcome. This was followed by group discussions about solutions to some of the more common challenges. Leadership and ownership were high on the list, as were ensuring sustainability and continuity of evaluation in the face of organisational change. Learning from evaluation results, acting on results, showing successes and not being afraid of change resonated with members of the group too.  In addition not being afraid to talk about ‘when things go wrong’ which was identified as a difficult stage, when evaluation can fall by the wayside.  It could be argued that we learn more from failure than success.  The need to embed from the start and keep reflecting and responding to a changing situation is essential as is developing a good relationship with your funder.

Feedback from the group’s flipchart discussions can be seen here.

How far is your organisation embedding evaluation?  Find out by completing this diagnostic tool Evaluation Wheel

Handouts from the session: Top 10 Tips to embedding evaluation into your organisation’s practice  More information about the results of our research is here.

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