Hannah Ormston talks about how she has taken the lead to evaluate the work of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is an educational charity. We utilise the expertise and experience of our 1600 Fellows – distinguished individuals elected in recognition of their achievements in academia and beyond – to provide public benefit initiatives. Our main activities include funding for research in Scotland and overseas; policy advice papers which provide independent evidence to inform public policy decisions; free public lectures and events; and various international activities with our stakeholders abroad. This broad range of activities, only made possible through the scope of the expertise of the Fellowship, is a unique strength of the RSE. In turn, assessing the impact and evaluating the reach of the organisation can prove to be quite a challenging task.
What we did
In January, the RSE made a commitment to try to better understand the impact we make as an organisation and to improve our internal evaluation procedures and measurement practices. We are keen to embed impact practice into our daily working processes, so that it becomes less of an additional task thought about after the activity has taken place, and more of a planned process, which is included during the activity planning stage.
As the RSE’s Impact Officer, my role has been to facilitate this change. Initially, it involved a lot of learning; attending Evaluation Support Scotland workshops, speaking to other evaluators in similar organisations, and talking to colleagues about how they record and use, or would like to record and use, impact evidence. In consultation with the various teams and using the RSE’s Strategic Framework, I created an evaluation plan for the organisation, along with tools to record information in an easy and accessible format
In addition, during the RSE’s annual Away Day, staff participated in a workshop hosted by Evaluation Support Scotland which offered an opportunity to discuss ideas as a whole team.
Challenges and successes
As Winston Churchill once said, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them”. One of the key challenges over the past ten months has been engaging staff – particularly those who work ‘behind the scenes’ – to collect impact evidence on a regular basis and to understand their integral role in the process. The first step to improving this issue was to identify my allies. Monitoring impact activity can be a huge and daunting task, but having a network of people within the organisation, who have a mutual understanding of what you are trying to achieve, really helps.
Last month, I established an internal Impact Champions Group which will meet every six weeks to discuss ideas and share experiences in an informal setting. I found Making It Stick – a resource from Evaluation Support Scotland – was very useful in providing tips and ideas for generating discussion. Going forward, we’ll discuss one topic per session, based on a simple diagnostic wheel which mapped where we felt we were up to as an organisation. Additionally, and as a result of the first meeting, it was agreed that the Impact Group will create an internal, monthly Impact Bulletin, which will be circulated to all staff, to communicate ideas and to continue to generate a culture of sharing evidence.
Over the past couple of months, I have noticed that people are increasingly eager to discuss evaluating the impact of their activities, either during team meetings or on a 1-to-1 basis. I am more frequently copied into ‘good news’ emails, demonstrating that a culture of sharing impact information is growing.
Furthermore, staff are utilising the feedback we receive – such as following a public event – both to report on the success of an activity, and to think about improvements for the future. Their continuing commitment is also demonstrated by the representation we have at the Impact Group; there are 10 people who regularly attend, which is almost 25% of the RSE team.
Last week, the RSE also became a National Impact Champion, part of Inspiring Impact’s UK-wide movement which aims to promote good impact practice across the sector.
There have been a couple of lightbulb moments over the past 10 months. My tips to anyone trying to embed impact practice into their organisations working processes would be:-
1. Identify your allies and create your own network of support.
2. Get to know your colleagues, their preferred methods of working, and create effortless ways for information to be recorded in a way that best suits them.
3. Communicate – similarly to the above, learn peoples preferred methods of communication (a tip kindly passed on to me from a member of the ESS Peer Support group).
4. Keep the momentum going – I think every impact or evaluation lead might have had a moment when they wanted to give up. Push through it, and remember that there is a network of like-minded people out there who could provide some impartial advice!
I’m always very happy to share ideas and learning with others so please do get in touch with me – Hannah Ormston if you would like to be in touch!