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Over the last month many of the organisations I work with have been busy responding to the current crisis, reaching out to customers, assessing who is in greatest need and prioritising essential activity – and evaluation work has taken a pause.  

And along with many social impact practitioners, these organisations are quite rightly asking whether we should be ‘bothering’ people with monitoring & evaluation at this time?    And during the crisis shouldn’t staff just be focusing on delivery?

After the initial commotion, organisations now seem to be settling into the practical challenges of delivery and engaging with their most vulnerable customers.    Many are also finding that they are reaching new people that maybe they haven’t served before….. or that their existing clients are experiencing more intense needs.    And lots of service providers are quickly adapting to deliver new interventions and projects………that perhaps they and their staff have never done. 

All of this reveals the need to quickly make sense of this new landscape and assess the effectiveness & impact of things ………. 

  • are we reaching the right people?
  • what should be the new criteria to receive support and how could people prioritised?
  • how do we assess what is the right service for each individual or family – when we can’t meet them in person? 
  • are we duplicating what others are doing? 
  • who is falling through the gaps and how do we figure out who are we not reaching….. or who is dropping out?
  • why is our service not useful to some and what could we do differently, moving forward?
  • what might have been any unintended consequences – both positive and negative?  

In the midst of making sense of this new order working out what questions to ask can be tricky ……… as is deciding what data arising from the answers is most insightful, so agreeing what to collect and how to use this new information in the current climate is key.    

This slide from a recent Inspiring Impact webinar makes the distinction between the different types of data you might want to consider collecting at the moment, and what to prioritise ……..

You might also need to revisit your Theory of Change – if you are already doing social impact measurement hopefully you’ll have one of these ………..and will be returning to it periodically to check that you are still delivering what you set out to….. or adjusting it as you adapt and grow your services and work with new stakeholders and partners.

Considering how to reach people, their ability to respond, and the need to balance asking for evaluative feedback, responding to urgent needs, and providing human connection & empathy will be a large part of how you decide to conduct impact measurement at the moment – this whole dillema will be subject of a separate blog in the not too distant future.

What to do with the data when you’ve to it?

The swift pace of change and re-focusing at the front facing end of the business ……whilst also understanding what’s actually going for customers….. can also help colleagues at lots of different levels of the business.  So, making data collection and interpretation meaningful for everyone in your organisation is really important right now too.     

Writing full impact reports is way down on the priority list for most us at the moment (…….it won’t always be that way). But a couple of great suggestions from that webinar to focus on at the moment were to ‘send staff a weekly email briefing with top issues from the previous week and a reminder of the key advice being given, the services being most frequently requested and the types of people being helped…….. also briefing your comms team in a fortnightly email detailing the top 3 issues being tackled by the organization with an anonymous case study, in order to support fundraising drives on social media and to include in press releases’

Staying afloat is a big worry for a lot organisations at the moment, so proving your worth to funders, commissioners and donors is vital.    Even if your funder has agreed to delay the submission of your next evaluation report, it’s still important to keep collecting data.  When new funding windows open there will be surge of applications from cash-strapped competitors and you need to have up to date and comprehensive evidence of impact ready. 

It’s seems like we’ve been in the midst of the crisis for a long time but we’re only actually 5 weeks in …….. we are all still figuring a lot of this out together and I’d be interested to hear your experiences.     But to me, it’s becoming apparent that impact measurement and service evaluation is just as, if not more, important than before.   

When we come out of the other side… we surely will …….. having a deeper understanding of what’s worked and what hasn’t will be imperative.  

Get in touch if you are re-assessing your evaluation practice and need help…. or if you want to make sense of your social impact for the first time.   

Future blogs: Partnership working during the crisis and assessing our role in making an impact ~ Digital inequality and the dilemma of how to reach enough people in order to gain a thorough understanding of what’s working ~ Making the most effective use of the rise in volunteering  

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