Good data and robust evidence is essential for making informed decisions about the future. Used well, it empowers you to learn from, and improve, what you do. It can also help you to develop and improve your future impact practice.
Here we explain how to use your evaluation findings to improve your work. We also explore what it means to create a culture of continuous learning, so that evidence about what works becomes a routine part of life.
How to use findings from your impact practice to improve your work
You could use your findings to:
● Improve your services. Understand what level of intervention achieves the best outcomes for the largest number of beneficiaries. Prioritise activities that are most likely to lead to positive changes and allocate resources accordingly. Stop or change activities that are not leading to the desired outcomes. Plan which elements of an initiative could be scaled up or replicated in other areas or by other organisations. You can learn more about how knowledge and learning can support your organisation to grow or scale-up projects in our guide.
● Reach your target audience. Consider any unmet need in your beneficiary group, or potential new beneficiary groups who could benefit from your work. You may need to change your eligible target group, the way you publicise your work, or how you deliver your activities.
● Better engage with individuals. Outcomes data can be useful for looking at individuals as well as whole services. If a beneficiary is not achieving their desired outcomes, what could you both do differently?
● Review internal processes. You may want to look at your recruitment practices, the training and support you offer staff and volunteers, your relationships with partners or referring organisations, and how decisions are made internally. Don’t forget to review your impact measurement processes to ensure you’re collecting useful data in the best way possible.
How to develop a culture that supports impact practice
Impact measurement isn’t just about data collection. It is important to create a culture where people are committed to using data to continuously learn and improve.
The table below helps you understand the kind of knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours that support impact:
Try our exercise ‘understanding your learning culture’: This worksheet will help you understand where your organisation/team have the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours of an impact culture and where you need to improve.
Our guide to creating a learning culture provides further practical advice on how to engage your teams with impact practice through 12 steps, which are summarised below:
- Develop a ‘knowledge and learning plan’ – Have a clear plan that brings together and summarises your learning intentions and the data collection that will be used to support that learning.
- Communicate your approach – Share your commitment to knowledge and learning and the approaches you plan to take. Talk about your specific learning questions and how they add value.
- Define roles and responsibilities – Everyone should be aware of their role in knowledge creation and learning, including senior staff, managers, front-line staff, volunteers, and service users.
- Consider capacity – You will need to give people time to engage and participate in evaluation and learning activities. Knowledge and learning will inevitably take a backseat to delivery, so this needs to be carefully considered and tackled head-on.
- Encourage leadership at all levels – Someone will need to have overall responsibility for knowledge and learning. You can also encourage informal leadership in the form of ‘champions’ who promote impact practices, whilst engaging others in the implementation of improvements.
- Involve people – Try to get staff, volunteers and beneficiaries involved in the design of knowledge and learning processes like your theory of change, questionnaires and data systems.
- Provide incentives – Think about what further incentives you can offer to promote knowledge and learning. Consider writing it into job descriptions and including contributions to knowledge and learning in staff performance appraisals. Volunteers might be motivated by prizes and other forms of recognition. The most important incentive is to demonstrate how knowledge and learning is being used to improve the organisation’s work and increase impact.
- Make data collection and use as easy as possible – To secure support from the front line, it helps to integrate data collection into day-to-day work, rather than as an add-on. Make it easy for service users to provide informal feedback, for example through social media or a comments book.
- Put good processes in place for learning – these can include team meetings, conferences, intranets and forums, or project management software.
- Learn from mistakes/failure – Promote a mindset that focuses on improvement. Any disappointing results should be acknowledged and examined, and staff should be encouraged to do this. Some organisations even throw ‘failure parties’ where people can get together and share what hasn’t worked.
- Acknowledge your capabilities – Assess your internal evaluation/research skills and your access to external support. Your chosen approach must match your staff’s ability to conduct research and make sense of the data. You may need to seek external advice or commission externally. Remember that not being an expert or having limited financial resources does not necessarily mean good quality evidence is out of reach.
- Give it time – Finally, you need to allow time for all this to take shape. Although it is always worth looking for ‘quick wins’ so that people see the value of knowledge and learning, it may be a few years before the right culture and supporting systems are in place.
This webpage has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran from 2011 until early 2022 and supported voluntary organisations to improve their impact practice. More information about the Inspiring Impact programme.