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Learning from GambleAware’s community collaboration

How to evaluate efficiently

In the wake of the cost-of-living crisis, people finding it hard to make ends meet are looking to all options – including gambling – for solutions. The National Gambling Helpline is seeing people gamble Universal Credit with the hope of paying their bills; almost half of women who increased their gambling in the past year say they are trying to win money to cope with the cost of living; and previously recovered gamblers are relapsing. The National Gambling Treatment Service – a network providing support for people experiencing gambling-related harms – has been shown to be effective, but issues around stigma, denial and service accessibility mean that only a small proportion of people needing treatment are using services. 

This landscape led GambleAware – an independent charity commissioning prevention and treatment services across Great Britain– to launch the Community Resilience Fund. It‘s a novel approach for GambleAware, who have designed this grant funding programme to create space for new ideas and to reach communities that otherwise might not engage in support for problems related to gambling. Funding has been awarded to 22 community-based organisations who work with people most likely to be affected by the cost-of-living crisis and gambling harm. Some of the organisations have prior experience of gambling harm reduction and some don’t. GambleAware, together with the community-based organisations and evaluation partners, NPC and Ipsos, are looking to find out if and how this new approach will work. 

Evaluation is challenging  

It’s a sunny Thursday in Birmingham and representatives from the community organisations, GambleAware, Ipsos and NPC are attending the Community Resilience Fund start-up event. Grantees’ views on evaluation range from positive reflections to persistent irritations. One attendee shares that evaluation supports their service design by enabling staff to reflect on what’s not working, but another feels that their staff are not invested in evaluation and avoid data collection. 

A photo of attendees at the first GambleAware Community Resilience Fund start-up event.GambleAware’s Community Resilience Fund startup event, Birmingham 

The challenges to collecting valid data are certainly not in short supply. Clients may drop in and out or move between services, shame can prevent them from disclosing gambling harm, and long-term follow up can be triggering for people in recovery. For staff, requesting sensitive information for evaluation purposes can feel at odds with creating inclusive, non-judgemental services. Time is limited, and funders’ reporting requirements – including questions that prioritise understanding the quantity of work delivered over the quality of change, evaluation measures with inaccessible language, and timelines that are out of pace with clients’ recoveries – can use resource on measuring things that don’t feel very helpful.  

Evaluation isn’t always easy. But, for the thousands of people receiving charitable support, understanding what works and for whom is crucial. Here we’ll draw together NPC and Ipsos’ key tips for getting started. 

What can charities do to minimise evaluation burden whilst maximising learning? 

Know your goals and push back! 

A theory of change is a plan that describes how you intend to cause change in the world. This helps show you what activities and outcomes are key to achieving your mission. Being clear about these goals will help you tell funders why you are (and aren’t) measuring particular outcomes. Often funders don’t know the best way to measure and are trying to find ways of reporting, so don’t be afraid to explain your rationale and push back on their data requests. This may not always be possible and sometimes funders may still direct the use of certain measures, but having a strong rationale for what you collect and why will maximise your chances of persuading them. If your funder is asking for information that sits outside your aims and requires extra time, it’s worth asking if they can provide additional resource or expertise to help. Working collaboratively will maximise learning and impact for you both – so be clear about your organisational priorities and ask for what you need. 

Look at the evidence base 

Chances are you’ll already be collecting some of the evidence you need. Mapping your existing evidence against your goals will help you to see where the gaps are. Understanding whether the questions you want to answer have been researched already can give you confidence that your programme can achieve similar outcomes and help you prioritise what to measure. If your charity aims to improve young peoples’ health through football, for example, you don’t necessarily need to measure changes to participants’ health – the link between exercise and health has already been proven. Instead, it may be easier to measure change in the amount of exercise done by participants. By pairing this information with existing research, you can explain how your programme is affecting health. NPC’s data diagnostic tool can help you to decide what data to collect. 

Focus on what is feasible (within your sphere of control and influence) 

If your service is an anonymous support line, you can’t be expected to understand the long-term impact of participants’ engagement. It’ll be easier to assess service quality and how participants feel while they are engaging with you. Focussing your efforts on understanding those areas that you can be held accountable for and trying to improve those will go a long way. Learnings from reviewing the existing evidence on your type of intervention can give you the confidence that improving the quality of your work and the experiences participants have when engaging with you will help to improve their outcomes and the longer-term impact, too. 

Be proportionate  

Match your investment in evaluation to the scope of your programme and use light-touch tools where you can. To collect useful feedback efficiently, NPC recommends three questions: 

  1.  How likely is it that you would recommend this [event/resource/training/etc] to a friend?’ Known as the net promoter score, this question can be used across multiple industries and scores can be benchmarked against existing data.  
  2. ‘What will you do next?’ gives an indicator of whether your service is likely to lead to further change. Answer options could include seeking more information, talking to someone or visiting a specialist.  
  3. ‘How could it be better?’, an open-ended question, provides an opportunity to learn from participants’ suggestions for improvement.  

Knowing your aims, reviewing the evidence, and communicating with your funders will make beginning an evaluation journey feel less daunting.  

 The GambleAware team hopes that their investment will increase understanding about what works and for whom, enabling community-based organisations to deliver evidence-based, commission-ready gambling harm prevention and support programmes.  

For Ipsos, NPC and GambleAware, knowledge about what support is needed to help community organisations maximise learning is increasing. And for individuals facing the cost-of-living crisis, at risk of gambling harm and experiencing barriers to existing support, a path towards accessing meaningful, evidence-based support may be beginning to be illuminated.  

This is the first in a series of four blogs that will share learning from the Community Resilience Fund over the next year.  

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