road barrier

What are the barriers to learning from evaluation?

By Anne Kazimirski 18 October 2018

If evaluation is not about learning, then we need to ask what it is for.

Bethia McNeil, Director, the Centre for Youth Impact

You could see these words resonate with the NPC Ignites audience at our session on evaluation last week.

Of course, there are different answers to this question. Sometimes we evaluate because a funder asks us to, or because we think we ought to. But really, evaluation should always, always help charities and funders do what they do better so they can make a difference.

But there are real and severe barriers to learning.

Sometimes it’s know-how. At NPC we do a lot of work to equip charitable organisations with the ability to understand and improve their impact, alongside others in the sector—whether that’s by providing free resources, delivering training, or working directly through consultancy.

But getting our frameworks and methodology right is only half the work. Often the real barriers to meaningful evaluation is mindset.

Bethia gave a brilliant insight into many of the cultural and human barriers to learning from evaluation: from being afraid of what the results might show, to not understanding the point of evaluation in the first place.

You can hear her 10-minute presentation here. I’m sure it will resonate with anyone who has ever done or thought about evaluation:

Our other panellists were Suzanne Jacob of SafeLives, whoes shared measurement platform has helped channel more government funding towards domestic violence support and Peter Bailey of the Money Advice service, who NPC has worked with on proportionate evaluation. Each also regularly grapple with the same issues

Peter Bailey: ‘…as a funder we try to do things that can build learning into the funding that we give out. For example, we don’t focus on the end product as a final evaluation report but try to do things that will support the learning and change that will happen as a result of that evaluation.’

Suzanne Jacob: ‘…try and test the tiniest thing you can possibly think of…If you take a really massive question in your evaluation you’re never going to know how that broke down… you’re never going to know [‘why is it working?’, as well as ‘is it working?’] …you’re never going to find that out unless you get really small.’

You can listen to the full panel here. In it, we discuss their experiences of learning from evaluation, the barriers they see, and some possible solutions.

Catch up on more from NPC Ignites 2018  and learn about our partnership with Bethia and the Centre for Youth Impact on the YIF Learning project.

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