At a recent event on ‘making impact and evaluation meaningful’, one question asked by another attendee really stuck with us:
“If funders don’t value our evidence, why do they ask for it?”
We, of course, know that this isn’t the case. Whether through application forms, assessment visits, end of year reports or external evaluations, we know that our Open Award applicants and grant holders are best placed to tell us about their challenges and successes. We know the evidence they provide is the most reliable source of learning about the sector we have and, naturally, we know that it should be used to inform our own priorities going forward, both for what we fund and what support we offer.
Despite this, using evidence more effectively, particularly for informing policy and practice, has been a recurring theme at events we’ve been to across 2018 and clearly an area where funders can continue to learn from each other (and the sector more generally).
So why don’t we do more?
We are trying, but the truth is extracting useful generalisations or common themes from so much information, particularly when the evidence comes from a range of activities, outcomes, beneficiaries and organisation sizes, is not a simple task.
Recently, for instance, we piloted carrying out telephone calls with organisations which have completed a five year grant to see if we could gather (and share) any further insights into what had worked or not with their particular approach. Same problem; we had some really valuable insights into the individual projects. However, as they were so diverse in what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve it was extremely difficult to pull out any common threads which would be useful or meaningful to the wider sector.
How do we currently use your evidence?
One way we do this is by publishing funding stories which showcase the differences some of our strongest funded projects are making. We are trying to make these more user-friendly, accessible and appealing; for instance, we recorded our first-ever video funding story last week with Craigshill Good Neighbour Network (available at the bottom of this article). Meanwhile, as part of our recent web upgrade, we added new stories for each of our funding themes. In every example, we ask these organisations to share some of their top tips for other organisations doing similar work.
We also use the evidence we receive internally to inform decisions about how we fund and what additional support we might be able to offer to applicants and grant holders. For instance, we have seen an increase in the number of applications for dementia-related projects and wish to see whether we are using our funding as effectively as possible. A key part of this is looking at what we currently fund, what each funded project is doing and whether there are any shared successes or challenges we can learn from.
As a result of what we hear from our funded organisations around the difficulties of evidencing impact and reporting effectively, we are launching a ‘Monitoring and Evaluation' blog channel in the new year which will feature regular, best-practice advice as well as showcasing some of the best, real-life examples we have of applications, reports and evidence gathering. We hope this will become a resource of real value for the sector, developing consistently from the insights we receive from the organisations we fund.
As we move forward, we will continue to look for new and better ways to share evidence. We value the information you share with us and want to use it to support other organisations where possible.
If you have any ideas, comments or suggestions please talk to us – like all good organisations, we want to learn from others!