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Terminology

Evaluation and learning covers a broad range of activities:

  • Performance management, e.g. reporting and monitoring

  • Knowledge management

  • Organisational learning

  • Strategic learning

 

We use the term to represent the suite of evaluation-related activities focusing on the use of, and demand for, evaluative information rather than solely on evaluation.

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Evaluation & learning

Every voluntary organisation we work with wants to describe and explain the difference they make to people’s lives and to learn from and adapt their work so that they do the best they can. We design evaluation and learning to help voluntary organisations achieve this and to help funders and commissioners find out more about the work they support.

 

Our support is geared towards change: we work closely with our clients to understand what they want to achieve and design evaluation and learning processes that will help. Evaluation can encompass a broad range of activities – including performance management, knowledge management, organisational learning and strategic learning. It can focus on a whole organisation, a single activity, or a programme of work. 

Understand,
learn
& adapt.

People use our evaluation and learning services to inform the discussions and decisions that will lead to positive changes in their organisation’s strategy and practice. We help organisations to evaluate their outcomes and impact. But what we really love is helping them get the most out of evaluation and learning by designing great processes. We concentrate on:

 

  • Asking the right evaluation questions so that it helps them achieve their ambitions
  • Creating exciting, challenging processes that will stimulate reflection and change
  • Making evaluation useful to trustees and anyone else who is important to them
  • Getting the timings right so that evaluation and learning can help with the big decisions

 

Each evaluation is bespoke because each organisation’s needs and questions are different. And each organisation has different resources and capacity for evaluation and learning. We design evaluations that are light touch and inexpensive, and make the most of the data already collected by the organisation.

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Real-time evaluation

 

At the heart of our approach is supporting people to question, learn from and adapt their work in real time. How we do this varies from one-to-one meetings with senior staff and trustees to discuss strategic challenges through to written briefings and reports supported by facilitated workshops. Our priority is that our evaluation and learning services are practically useful and relevant to people’s work.

We specialise in action research

 

Principles for practical application:

  • Our work starts with a practical issue or problem, challenge or opportunity

  • We collaborate closely with the organisations we work with

  • We make the most of the academic literature and expertise that is already available

  • We pose quations, and encourage reflection and debate
  • We only take on a project if we believe it will lead to meaningful change

  • We ensure our work is relevant, useful and available for all

We use a theory of change to describe how and why it is believed that an initiative or programme will work. We work through three stages to:

 

  • Surface the assumptions underpinning a programme/initiative
  • Articulate how the planned activities, in theory, will lead to the desired change
  • Identify outcomes that can be used to assess progress towards the desired change

 

Developing a theory of change can help to identify key learning milestones and data that may be required in order to make timely and meaningful judgements so that strategic decisions can be made.  More specifically, a theory of change can:  

 

  • Help to sharpen planning and implementation  
  • Help to identify what should be evaluated and clarify research questions  
  • Reduce, but not eliminate, problems associated with causal attribution
  • Generate useful learning and theory development  
  • Focus not only on what works, but how and why
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In practice

Front cover image for Improving Evaluation Design

Publications:

Improving Evaluation Design

Ben Cairns, Katie Turner


This paper, produced for the Evaluation Roundtable event on 27th April 2016, offers a practical resource for foundation staff in assessing and/or improving their processes for the design stage of commissioning external evaluations.

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