The Association of Sail Training Organisations (ASTO) is the UK’s national membership body for Sail Training organisations. Sail Training—the experience of spending time aboard a vessel—is for everyone, but it can be particularly transformative for young people. Spending several days at sea away from the comforts of home, young sailors learn new skills and discover new things about themselves.
ASTO wanted to create a shared theory of change and measurement framework, to help its members to explain and assess the impact of their work with young people. While there are similarities across ASTO’s members, each has their own approach and they work with different groups of young people. NPC needed to capture that range of views and programmes offered, to develop a theory of change and measurement plan that was relevant to all of ASTO’s members.
We began with background research to understand the core features of sail training, the experiences of participants and the main outcomes. This was the starting point of a shared theory of change.
We ran a workshop at ASTO’s annual members conference. People worked in groups to think through a selection of questions about sail training—how are young people different immediately, and long after a sail training experience? What does a good quality sail training programme look like? What activities take place on board? During this workshop, we heard from every attending ASTO member—over 70 people in total. Using these workshop discussion, we developed a theory of change reflecting the common elements of what ASTO’s members achieve for young people, and identified the most important elements for measurement.
(NPC) ran an information gathering session at our conference that showed they really understood the problem and produced a Theory of Change that our members recognised and agreed with.
Finally, we designed a bespoke survey for ASTO members to measure their impact. The survey reflected the most important outcomes and quality indicators for sail training organisations, giving ASTO members an opportunity to capture, communicate and track their progress over time.
It has made it easier to explain to funders and commissioners what we do. Some of our members have started to use the survey to assess their own impact.
We will encourage our members to use the theory of change and surveys. We’ll use this data to produce a sector impact report. We’ll also encourage our members to reflect on their practice and try to improve on their outcomes using NPC’s advice.
A decade ago, the term ‘theory of change’ meant little to the UK charity sector. Seen as a piece of American evaluation jargon, it did not conjure up much enthusiasm. But today, more and more charities are using theories of change, and more and more funders are asking to see them. So what is a theory of change, and why is it so valuable?
A theory of change is a tool that allows you to describe the need you are trying to address, the changes you want to make (your outcomes), and what you plan to do (your activities). It can help you improve your strategy, measurement, communication and partnership working.
We researched the latest developments in theory and practice in measurement and evaluation. And we found that new thinking, techniques, and technology are influencing and improving practice. This report highlights 8 developments that we think have the greatest potential to improve evaluation and programme design, and the careful collection and use of data.