At vInspired, we’re preparing for our strategic review for activities beyond 2015/16. As part of this, it’s my job to review and update our organisation’s approach to measurement and evaluation. We have a renewed focus on impact—measuring the difference that we makes to the lives of young people and the communities they engage with. It’s a hugely exciting programme of work to lead, which we hope will help us become more effective. But it also poses a big challenge: how to embed a culture of real commitment to learning from what the data tells us.

Nine months ago I attended NPC’s annual impact conference as a delegate. I’d done a lot of research into the theory of change model and felt sure this was the right approach to underpin my review of our impact measurement. But I felt overwhelmed about where to start. I left the conference with lots of practical ideas, a handful of new contacts who might be able to help or advise and, most importantly, the inspiration to begin!

I returned to the office to present my case to the senior management team—to convince them we didn’t just need an outcomes framework, we needed a theory of change. vInspired has changed significantly since we were established in 2006. While we began predominantly as a funder for youth volunteering, eight years on we provide direct services to 9,982 young people each year through our programmes and products. Our work has evolved and developed as we’ve changed as an organisation, so introducing a theory of change gives us the opportunity to consolidate our approach and clarify our core objectives.

We’re only part way through this process, but two weeks ago I was back at an NPC conference—this time the measuring outcomes event—to share my reflections on our progress so far.

Here are my top five tips for becoming an impact driven organisation:

1. Spend time planning how you’ll tailor your approach to your organisation’s needs, timescales, and priorities. For example, our new CEO began in April 2014, five months into our process, so I had to consider how far I could take the work before she came into post. Things you might want to take into account include:
– When is your strategy due to be reviewed?
– When will your board meet? When can you get their input and approval?
– What are the opportunities to consult with your beneficiaries about where they feel your organisation is making the biggest impact?

2. Secure backing from your senior management team and board of trustees right from the beginning.
They need to understand and fully support the process. It will make it much easier to encourage others to get involved with their backing. And will also make it much easier when the time comes to respond to the lessons learnt through the theory of change process. I provided training on the theory of change model for staff across all levels of the organisation, which was a really powerful way to build momentum internally.

3. Start collecting and reporting data as soon as you can.
It can take a long time to build the evidence you need to report on outcomes, so it might be helpful to look at some quick wins to demonstrate the power of evidence. At vInspired, we standardised all our demographic questions and began to report our outputs at monthly staff briefings. And we’ve just launched our first annual impact report. Regularly reporting and reflecting on the number you have really helps to embed a culture that values and learns from data.

4. Involve all teams in the process.
We began to map a theory of change for each of our programmes to help staff understand the process. Teams found the theory of change process particularly helpful with planning activities, and many of them now regularly use the model to develop new areas of work.

5. Be patient—it takes time!
In my first nine months I’ve trained staff, mapped our existing work to a theory of change model, and secured staff buy-in. It’s taken a lot longer than I first envisaged, but I know that having the right support to develop an organisation-wide theory of change is vital to our new strategy.

I am excited about the future of this work. I’ve learnt to take things slower. Use much simpler terms. And to learn from the experience and ideas of others trying to do the same thing in different organisations.

Improving impact measurement across the third sector is a huge area of growth for most organisations, so sharing experiences, top tips, and different approaches is crucial to support our end goal—to become impact driven organisations.

To catch up with further insights from our #outcomesevent check out our storify.

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