How To Measure Outcomes: Practical Tools And Tips
14 May, ILEC Conference Centre, Lillie Road, London SW6
Charities are constantly under pressure to prove to commissioners, funders and other stakeholders the difference they are making. This conference will provide information on new and innovative ways of collecting your measurement data; practical workshops on measuring advocacy, randomised controlled trials and theory of change; and the latest advice on how to engage and inform your key stakeholders.
Below, four of more than 20 speakers respond to some of the key questions that are likely to be explored on the day.
Why should measuring and evaluating outcomes be a priority for charities?
Charlotte Weinberg: Charities exist with a mission to achieve or contribute to specific social outcomes, so understanding how and why their work affects those outcomes should always be central to their work. In the current climate, measurement and evaluation is too often viewed solely as a tool for self-promotion and leveraging funding; but its real value lies in informing charities how they can continue to develop and improve their services.
Matt Barnard: The core mission of all charities is to help the people they work on behalf of, and there is an ethical imperative to know whether that work is making things better or worse. Evaluation can help charities better understand how they work and how they can do it. Being able to demonstrate impact is also becoming increasingly important in fundraising. But the bottom line is that we have a moral duty to try to find out if we’re actually having an impact – because, if we’re not, we should be doing something else.
Kieron Kirkland: Charities often think about measuring outcomes as something that’s needed to keep funders, or others, happy. That’s true up to a point. But the primary reason to measure outcomes is that it helps charities to get a robust understanding of the efficiency of their programmes.
A challenge that many charities are facing at the moment is the tendency to overclaim on their impact due to increased donor pressure. How do you think this issue can be tackled?
Matt Barnard: On a cultural level, the key is for donors to become more sophisticated in what they are asking for. Donors are potentially the greatest force for good in driving a genuinely impact-led sector, because ultimately they are who charities have to answer to. On a practical level, agreed standards of reporting and evidence could help if they gained a critical mass of support.
Kat Harrison: I don’t know if it’s necessarily true that charities are being forced to overclaim. I think the challenge is more around a charity’s lack of capacity to effectively measure impact and then to effectively communicate that. If a charity is doing good work, there will be no need to overclaim, but there might be a need to better communicate the results. Many charities will be overclaiming unknowingly because they don’t have strong enough monitoring processes in place, or capacity to focus on this.
Kieron Kirkland: "Impact" is becoming a currency and, as such, it risks becoming inflated. It’s donors’ responsibility to support the organisations they fund to set up good measurement and evaluation practices, or work with those already in place. The flip side is that funders should really put stock only in robust evidence. But it’s a partnership between funders and funded projects to best understand the most effective approaches.
If you could give one piece of advice to charities that are struggling to demonstrate their value, what would it be?
Charlotte Weinberg: Start at the end and work backwards. Why does the organisation exist? Can you challenge those assumptions and can you discover things you don't know you are either doing or not doing? How can any evaluation help you make your practice stronger? My advice would be to chase development of delivery and maybe money will follow, never the other way.
Matt Barnard: Don’t start by asking "how can we demonstrate our value"; start by asking "how do we understand if we make a difference?"
Kat Harrison: Keep things simple: pick your most important impact area and focus on demonstrating that well. Charities can end up using so many indicators and then the real impact can get lost in a sea of words.
Kieron Kirkland: It is better to measure one thing well than ten things badly. Once you’ve got that, understand that social impact measurement is no weird mythical beast; it’s just another indicator of performance. It needs to be brought into the heart of operational and senior management teams.
For more information and advice from our speakers visit www.measuringoutcomes.co.uk