Becoming more effective with evaluation and impact practice

Impact practice: the activities that an organisation does to focus on its impact. This can include planning desired impact, planning how to measure it, collecting information about it, making sense of that information, communicating it and learning from it.

Prior to my role here with NCVO Charities Evaluation Services, I worked with a refugee infrastructure charity supporting small London-based community organisations. One of my projects involved supporting small groups with their evaluation requirements. We had some fun doing this but faced many challenges in embedding the learning and making it a regular feature. I didn’t know it then but what we were trying to do was to create a culture of impact practice.

Inspiring Impact

Inspiring Impact is a 10-year programme to improve the impact practice of the entire voluntary sector. Ambitious? Perhaps, but not unachievable.

We want to support groups to better understand their own organisation and the difference that they make – for the people they work with, the communities they serve, on government policy, and in other ways which they may be unaware of.

Where we’ve got to so far

The first three years of the Inspiring Impact project were concerned with creating a set of helpful reports and tools. Measuring Up, for example, a diagnostic assessment to help small groups understand where they are with their impact practice. Or the Impact Hub, a one-stop shop for impact resources and tools such as surveys, database systems or research reports.

This first phase enabled us to draw on the knowledge and experience of hundreds of organisations of all shapes and sizes, sectors, and geographical areas; connecting with them and benefitting from their input to design resources that would be useful to many more.

We have now entered the truly exciting second phase. A further three-year period designed to ensure that the free resources developed in phase one are made available to even more voluntary organisations, particularly those smaller groups with a limited number of staff, or that may be volunteer-led.

Why bother?

I know what it’s like for small groups. You seem to be permanently up against it (I’ve known groups that had clients queuing up outside in the morning), and finding time for development is tough.

Impact practice really is important however, in all kinds of ways. It can help you improve your services, to clearly demonstrate the difference your organisation makes, to put you in the best position to secure funding, to prioritise services, and to support your beneficiaries.

All this is particularly relevant at a time when it is no longer enough to say how many clients you have seen, or how many sessions you have managed to run. In the face of major ongoing funding reforms, charities increasingly need to be able to demonstrate the difference they make in a tangible way.

Getting started

Be first in line to receive Inspiring Impact news and developments – register for the mailing list to learn more about the new resources for small groups being released over the next few months.

I am also designing a new diagnostic toolkit for small groups (Measuring Up Light!) which will enable you to see not only where you are with your impact practice, but where you want to be. That’ll be coming in spring 2016 so look out for it and get on board.

Share you views with us by commenting below or tweeting us at @Inspiringlmpact.


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Avatar photo Sarah Menzies is a consultant with NCVO Charities Evaluation Services. She specialises in supporting voluntary sector organisations of diverse sizes and scope to build their capacity in evaluation. This is done through training, consultancy and specialised group support. She is a mixed methods researcher but has expertise on action research, empowering /inclusive research and working with marginalised communities.

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