Gingerbread has been championing single parents for over a hundred years, but like many charities today, we face tough decisions about where we concentrate our efforts and how we financially support those decisions. Through our strategic review process and the development of our new 2018-2021 strategy it became clear that single parents’ needs were changing and that we needed to adapt what we do as an organisation to respond to this.

For a long time at Gingerbread, we have used evidence and insight to successfully campaign and influence policy and public debate to create a better world for single parents. However, we have rarely used this approach to redesign services and programmes, too often these have responded to funder requirements.

A barrier to us embarking on this area of study to date has often been cost, so we are extremely grateful to City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, who provided funding to enable our Change Framework to come to fruition.

The process to develop our Change Framework has provided clarity of focus on what we deliver and a better understanding of where to scale our impact. Moving forward, this will guide decisions to help streamline our offer, develop our services, and ensure that as an organisation we meet the evolving needs of single parents longer term.

We used a four stage process to design our Change Framework, to then answer four key questions which would become central to this work:

1. What do single parents need from Gingerbread?

Through qualitative research we have gained a thorough understanding of single parent perspectives on what they value about Gingerbread, as well as what they think we should be developing in the future.

The single parents we spoke to gave us a very clear recommendation on where Gingerbread should focus in the future including; providing emotional support, campaigning and advocacy; and increased promotion and advertising.

2. What does staff and trustees experience tell us?

We consulted with staff and trustees to draw on their invaluable experience and insight from across the organisation to try to embed a learning culture in which everyone is involved in considering our impact and being curious of what works.

This highlighted the importance of investing in our network of single parents; building greater synergies across our different areas of work including direct delivery, advice and campaigns; and building stronger strategic partnerships to reach more single parents.

3. What can we learn from our existing evidence base?

Through our evidence review we have been able to draw on evidence, best practice, and up to date data to really understand single parent family needs.

The purpose of this external review was to build an understanding of what works and provide evidence to inform the design of services that Gingerbread delivers in these areas. We paid particular attention to key areas including well-being; peer support; and emotional support.

4. What is important to our external stakeholders?

We brought together a range of existing and potential new funders, delivery partners, and third sector organisations with an interest in single parents and invited them to feedback on our draft Change Framework.

This highlighted the need to provide more details on the focus of our partnership working; our campaigns and policy work; and bring single parent voices to the forefront of our work to build a movement for single parents.

What next for Gingerbread?

Our Change Framework is part of an intentional learning journey. In 2017 we began a strategic review of our organisation’s services, impact and business model. Two years into this process, the feedback from single parents, our own reflections, and the external evidence delivers a powerful message and roadmap for Gingerbread’s future. From 2019 we are now looking at how we respond to these learnings by delivering our new strategy.

We want to celebrate our successes but also be honest about what we need to change. Creating a learning culture can be difficult and prompts significant challenges. We want to be transparent about what these challenges have looked like for Gingerbread. Addressing our bias toward success was one of the challenges Gingerbread has had to face. We have had to revise our targets, look at the areas in which we were having difficulty delivering our services and have some tough conversations with funders. By being able to put aside the mentality that we must only focus on success, and also acknowledging our failures, we have been able to adjust our focus and make strategic decisions that enable us to support single parents in a more focused and impactful way.

An essential pillar of our strategy is working with others to build transparent and open partnerships to deliver our strategy to 2021 and beyond. This is why we have published our Change Framework report to share insights and learning on single parents’ needs.

Whether you’re a leader, an evaluation practitioner, or an organisation supporting single parents, it’s helpful to understand how we have used data to make key decisions. We hope this report will begin conversations and build on existing work with others to develop a more focused approach on our partnership working. Through our ambitious new strategy, we know we must support single parents, especially to respond to predictions that poverty amongst single parents will rise sharply from will rise sharply from 49% to 63% by 2020.

To do this we need to focus on evidence-based strategy, service design, and learning to maximise our impact for single parent families.

This is the early stage of our learning journey, and our aspiration is to be more adaptable and tailored to the changing needs of single parents and be able to grow, deliver, and sustain our vision for the future.

For more on understanding and improving your organisation’s impact, the Inspiring Impact programme offers free online tools and guidance to help you on your journey.

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