How we delivered a programme evaluation with partners Rocket Science

The project

In summer 2021 the evaluation team at NCVO received an invite to tender from FareShare, to evaluate their three-year lottery-funded programme.

FareShare delivers millions of tonnes of surplus food to people in need through their charity partners. They used the lottery funding to scale up their operations and wanted to understand how the funding had affected their capacity.

Due to the size and timeframe of the tender, NCVO wasn’t in a position to respond by ourselves. But we were highly motivated to work with FareShare, having previously developed their theory of change and evaluated their work with volunteers. So, rather than letting the opportunity pass us by, we decided to find a partner to tender with us.

How we formed the partnership

When we started to think about who we could partner with to deliver this work, Rocket Science came to mind. We had an existing relationship with them and knew that our values aligned, so this felt like a great springboard!

Rocket Science provide research and impact support. We contacted Rocket Science and discussed the work: how we could work together, capacity to deliver, and risk management. We were keen to work in a highly collaborative way.

After creating a joint proposal, we pitched for the work as a team and won! With Rocket Science’s help, we were able to deliver an evaluation that was valuable to FareShare within the set deadline.

The feedback we received from FareShare was positive. They valued the collaborative approach, and the prior knowledge both organisations had of working with the FareShare network.

Key ingredients to success

Collaborative planning

A shared detailed work plan was key to the project’s success.

We also formed an evaluation steering group to lead the work, organising regular partner meetings and working directly with FareShare and FareShare’s network.

Project management

We decided that Rocket Science would provide the overall project lead. This is a key role, particularly for a partnership, for someone to retain overall control, uniting and steering the teams.

We used SharePoint as a project management space, sharing all relevant documents here. While this had its limitations, such as the reduced functionality of tools such as word, it was very useful to be able to share documents and files and work on them collaboratively in real time.

Collaborative design

We devised key aspects of the evaluation together, including the evaluation aims, questions and tools.

Open communication was key, and we shared our successes and challenges in a frank and honest way, through workshop-style calls. We committed to being transparent with all work from early drafts to final products.

The collaboration meant that the programme was more time consuming than a solo project might have been, but the benefits were numerous and ensured a cohesive evaluation overall.

Risks

As the team had never worked together, there were some risks to the programme – working styles could differ or workload be unevenly distributed. Working to such a tight turnaround and running the programme during a pandemic made it even more challenging to deliver.

But our in-depth planning and open attitudes made sure that the programme was a success. We based our partnership on shared values, flexibility and an understanding of how each team preferred to work.

A successful outcome

Overall, the project was a success. The partnership brought collaborators from different perspectives, experiences and backgrounds together. This led to the sharing of ideas, collaborative problem solving, and a more creative and fun approach to evaluation.

FareShare’s feedback was great, too. They told us that having two teams working on the evaluation was a plus for them, with each bringing a different expertise.

Rocket Science’s perspective

Rocket Science said:

“We were really excited by the opportunity to partner with NCVO. Rocket Science places our values at the centre of all our decisions and we knew that NCVO shared our approach and our ambitions for our clients.

We could also immediately see the benefits of a partnership approach for a potentially complex evaluation. A key ingredient of this successful partnership was equity and trust in our relationship. While Rocket Science led from a contract perspective we recognised this was an opportunity for both parties to share our expertise and learn from each other. This meant being open and transparent with each other, trusting the strengths that each partner brought to the project and creating an environment in which we can discuss issues as they arise. Through taking this approach we managed to avoid any of the pitfalls of partnership working. We are looking forward to finding opportunities to work with NCVO in the future.”

If you’re looking for evaluation support, find out more about NCVO’s consultancy or read our guidance on developing effective impact and evaluation practices in your organisation.

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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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