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Passion and evidence go hand in hand

‘Measurement and evaluation can be seen as a very dry process’. Yes, even we admit it. But this does not make it meaningless bean counting. Measurement and evaluation exists in the social sector because of a desire to do better. And this desire to do better comes from a passion to make a difference.

‘If we ignore evidence or keep learning to ourselves, we risk achieving less than we are capable of’, said NPC’s Head of Measurement Anne Kazimirski at the launch event of our new report Global innovations in measurement and evaluation. This is particularly important when resources are scarce. And, as another speaker put it, it’s as much about accountability—to users, donors and funders—it is about efficiency and efficacy.

Still, we know that work needs to be done to bring measurement and evaluation out of a specialist academic space to allow more people to apply it to the causes they are working toward. That’s one thing this report aims to do.

The sector is impatient to do better, and the M&E toolbox is expanding

In developing the report, we spoke to measurement and evaluation (M&E) experts from around the world. We asked them what approaches, tools or techniques they think will make a lasting contribution to the field, what they were most excited about. A lot of what’s driving these approaches forward is advances in technology. An ever-expanding array of tools is opening up possibilities not previously (or not easily, at least) available to us.

It’s not just technology driving change, though. Dissatisfaction with the status quo, an ambition to tackle questions that have previously been beyond our grasp, and new players bringing fresh perspectives are all making a difference. They say that necessity is the mother of invention—innovation can involve new ways to address old questions, rather than doing new, shiny things for the sake of it. That’s why, as we point out in the report not all of these innovations are ‘new’. They are resurgent, or are older ideas applied in new or different ways. That’s often what innovation is all about.

Expertise still matters, so greater support and collaboration is needed  

While the toolbox is expanding, the panel did sound a note of caution: M&E does remain an expert skill, and tools need to be selected carefully to ensure they are appropriate to the task at hand. The days when randomised control trials were all-conquering are gone—today it is about knowing just how big the toolbox is, and being able to select the best methods for the job. Panellist at the launch event Sarah Mistry, Director of Effectiveness and Learning at international development umbrella body Bond, pointed the audience to Bond’s guide to help.

For smaller organisations, much of this stuff can be overwhelming—requiring time, money and specialist skills they may not have. Funders and even larger charities can play a useful role supporting others. NSPCC’s Annette Algie described how public and voluntary sector partners in Blackpool are using linked data to monitor outcomes of the Blackpool Better Start programme over time. She said the prospect of £45m Big Lottery Funding helped concentrate minds and drive forward conversations that were already happening. As Siobhan Campbell, head of the Department for Transport’s central research team and Chair of the cross-government evaluation group pointed out, we are all aiming for the same thing—to truly be a learning organisation—and there are benefits to helping each other on that journey rather than trying to do it all individually.

Global innovations in measurement and evaluation highlights the eight developments we see as most promising for the future of measurement and evaluation. The report is packed full of examples and resources, so do take a look and let us know what you think. These are our top picks—what are yours?

The report contains NPC’s research and views, and we are grateful that this project was funded with UK aid from the UK government and by Bates Wells Braithwaite, the NSPCC, Oxfam GB and Save the Children.