Motion or progress? It may seem a silly question, but when it comes to maximising your impact it could just change the game.
Social scientist and educator Michelle Evans-Chase knows the value of analysing your efforts better than most. With a PhD in social welfare and a Masters in social psychology, she’s spent 18 years understanding the ins and outs of social change while developing programmes for youth and adults from disenfranchised and underserved groups.
Evans-Chase believes evaluation is vital – particularly when working with vulnerable groups. Taking steps to build evaluation into your project will ensure you’re always helping (rather than hindering), provide valuable evidence for potential funders, and help you better target resources to achieve the best results.
But how do you get started? With Evans-Chase’s expert tips and some real-world examples…
1. Make it measurable
Before you write this one off as obvious, consider your own project goal/s. Evans-Chase says these often contain broad ideas like ‘empowerment’, ‘community engagement’ and ‘earning potential’. But to measure change against these concepts, you’ll need to drill down a bit deeper.
“The first thing people need to know is what their outcomes look like to them – empowerment can mean something different to every social entrepreneur who wants to measure changes in it,” she explains, “Identify a concrete indicator of the outcomes that can be measured and identify ways to measure those concrete indicators.”
For example, if your project aims to improve the employability of disadvantaged teenagers, your measurable outcomes might include: an increase in the number of students achieving a higher level of education, a decline in absenteeism, and students self-reporting that they feel more ready for work.
2. Know who you’re targeting
Evans-Chase says the second primary area to consider alongside outcomes is reach.
“It’s important to identify who you’re attempting to reach, who you’re actually reaching and what the barriers to engagement or service delivery are when it comes to those being missed,” she says.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better able to tailor your efforts and overcome barriers to hit those project goals.
3. Develop a Theory of Change
Another helpful first step to guide the entire evaluation process is developing a Theory of Change logic model. According to Evans-Chase, “This maps out what’s in our heads, but may not have been made explicit.”
“A Theory of Change model identifies: your enterprise’s outputs (engagement, deliverables), expected initial outcomes, expected longer-term outcomes, and the eventual overall impact of the programme on communities or individuals,” she explains.
By working backwards from your eventual intended impact and being really explicit about what steps you need to take, when, you’ll be able to take a good look at your current activity and make sure it all lines up.
4. Bake evaluation into your process
Managing director Shivad Singh of student-run study guide producer, Presto Academy, says asking a few questions of high school students before and after a series of newly-created life skills workshops was hugely valuable in shaping their focus. As well as showing them whether their workshops actually worked (luckily they do!), Singh says pre and post-workshop surveys also showed how the learners actually changed as a result.
“Many learners said that it would be better if we encouraged more discussions, broke the workshop into smaller parts and breaks, had worksheets and also diagrams for them to understand,” he explains, “Learners also liked it when I incorporated stories and anecdotes when explaining a concept. With this information, we can focus on the practices that benefit the learners more and remove the methods that have a slight impact.”
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Finally, Evans-Chase says, “Find a social scientist with programme evaluation or research experience and ask for guidance. Universities, colleges and many nonprofits are out there with the funding to support social change and social enterprise.
“There’s really no need to go it alone – you’ll be surprised at how willing people are to help.”