Our staff love working with young people. Seeing young people succeed against the odds gets them up in the morning and motivates them to overcome obstacles. They work long hours without complaint and show admirable dedication to the charity. But if working with young people is their passion, evaluation paperwork remains a duty—a necessary but joyless chore like hoovering or paying the council tax.
It’s a complaint that I am sure you have often heard from teachers: ‘I love working with the young people, but the lesson planning and evaluation documentation really gets me down.’
I’d like our staff to feel more excited about our evaluation work. But how can we do this when working with young people is energising and paperwork is, well … dull?
I’d be grateful for other suggestions, but my first instinct is to find ways to build connections between the evaluation systems and the thing that staff really care about: seeing change happen for young people. I think we need staff to embrace impact measurement as part of the moral purpose of the charity, so that impact measurement isn’t just a duty but is all-of-a-piece with the face-to-face work with our students.
All our staff receive initial training in programme evaluation and in the theory and practice of impact measurement. They can tell you what an SROI calculation is and the difference between outputs and outcomes. Later, they receive further management training, when the importance of evaluation is underscored again. No one can say that we don’t take impact measurement seriously at IntoUniversity—but I think this seriousness may be part of the problem. There is the world of difference between solemnly agreeing that evaluation is important and feeling excited by it.
At the moment, the time delay between completing the evaluation forms and any kind of feedback is too long. Far away at Head Office the forms are processed, the data is exported into spreadsheets, the numbers are crunched and summarised in tables and charts. Eventually, weeks or months after the forms have been competed, staff receive feedback which is interesting and valuable but, frankly, much too late to feel linked with the immediacy of our frontline work.
We need to create feedback loops that take days rather than weeks, so that the numbers about change are available swiftly after the experience of seeing that change at first hand. Putting systems in place to achieve this will be a challenge, but a challenge we must meet—or else risk losing the engagement in evaluation of our most important resource: our dedicated and talented staff team.
Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard is Director of Development and Co-Founder of IntoUniversity. Hugh will be presenting at our Impact report writing seminar on 15 November.