Frequently Asked Questions

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Who can attend ESS workshops?

ESS workshops are specifically designed for third sector organisations in Scotland.  In exceptional circumstances and if we would not be denying a place to a third sector organisation, we may allow staff from local authorities or other public sector to attend but only if the person is running a front line project.  Public sector staff who fund the third sector or provide support to third sector organisations in accessing and managing funds can attend our workshops for funders. Our workshops are not for consultants.

Can I get free-of-charge support from ESS?

ESS has a number of evaluation support accounts with funders which allow some funded organisations to get free support. Otherwise unfortunately we don’t have the resources to offer free workshops or tailored support for free. However we can sometimes give some free focussed support by phone or email. Also our evaluation support guides and other resources are free and can help you get started.  Here are a few: ESS support guide 1a Setting outcomes. ESS support guide 1b Working out what to measure (Setting indicators for your outcomes). ESS support guide 2a Designing evidence collection methods

Can ESS work with public sector organisations?

ESS does not usually work with public sector organisations. However if the public sector team works in partnership with third sector organisations or community groups then we may be able to support them.  If this sounds like you please get in touch by emailing and we can look into this further.

Do I have to do all your workshops or can I pick and choose?

Our three Let’s Evaluate! workshops follow a sequence and most people find it best to attend all three in order; but you can pick and choose. However you should either attend Getting started: Outcomes and Indicators before attending any other workshop OR have a good understanding of outcomes. You might find it helpful to read our Support Guide “Setting Outcomes” before coming on any of our courses. 

Can ESS tailor training for us?

Yes, we’re happy to do this.  However, we find our Let’s evaluate! workshops for third sector organisations meet most people’s needs.  They are cheaper and already tested.  If one of these doesn’t suit your needs we can tailor something for you, but we may charge for preparation time, usually half a day for each day’s training, depending on how much tailoring is involved.

Can ESS do an evaluation for us?

ESS helps organisations to learn how to evaluate their own work. We do not carry out evaluations for organisations.  We can work with you to review your own information and help you reflect and learn.  But we won’t gather data for you or make an independent judgement about the impact of your work.  If you want an external evaluation, our website has lots of resources that will take you through when to use external consultants and how to budget for, commission and manage the process.  We can also offer you a tailored support session to help you think through what you want to achieve from an external evaluation and how to commission one (we would charge you for this service)

We recommend starting with the short support guide we have written about using external consultants in evaluation, ESS Support Guide 5.1: Getting the best from external consultants. This guide covers budgeting,  commissioning an external consultant and managing the contract.  We recommend that if you are thinking about using an external consultant, read this guide first, even if it is just to check that you have included everything you need to in your budget/brief. You can also check our other resources on external evaluation.

We can’t recommend any evaluators but you might be able to circulate a tender through the Evaluation Network Scotland mailing list

What is the difference between quality and evaluation?

Evaluation measures the difference your work makes.  Quality measures how good your service is.  Your service can be very good, but unless it is relevant and addresses people’s needs, it may not make a difference to anything!

What is the difference between monitoring and evaluation?

We don’t tend to worry too much about this. What matters is that you collect information about what you do and the difference you make and analyse that information, report on it and learn from it. Some people think of monitoring as the process of collecting information, and evaluation as the process of analysis and reflection. Other people see monitoring as collecting and analysing information about your activities and evaluation as collecting and analysing information about your outcomes (the difference your work makes). Pick whichever definition works for you!

Which evaluation methods/tools does ESS recommend?

ESS does not promote any particular evaluation tools. There are lots of different and creative ways to engage people in evaluation. We find that evaluation works best when it fits with the way you do your work and the ethos of your organisation. Our resources section has lots of suggestions.

What’s the best database for evaluation?

Evaluation works best when it fits into the way you do your work and the same is true of databases.  So no one single database works for every third sector organisation.  For some organisations, Excel and a good electronic filing system can be enough.  There are many off-the-shelf databases.  At ESS we use an adapted version of Salesforce, which is free for small charities but there are developer costs to adapt it.  If you are collecting data electronically (eg an online form) that system may also store the data.  Some organisations create their own bespoke database.
Whatever your approach, some key things to think about are:
– Don’t start with the IT, start with working out what you want to measure and store including outcome data.
– No database will be perfect first time so be ready to adapt as you go.
– Follow your organisation’s data protection (GDPR) rules.
– Databases are only as good as the people who input the data! So involve staff in designing a database and planning its use.
This case study is about how Hot Chocolate (a youthwork charity) successfully developed its database
This paper has tips for funders about their databases
There are helpful tips in this external blog:

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