Here Shona Wells, Training Officer, talks about how using fit-for-purpose evaluation methods can make life easier for the volunteers, service users and staff members involved
Since joining the team at ESS over a year ago, I have been able to reflect on my experience of self-evaluation in previous jobs and realise how much easier life would have been if I’d known then what I know now!
In a past role I helped to coordinate a children’s befriending service, delivered by volunteers. I often wondered why it was so difficult to get volunteers to submit their feedback forms after each befriending outing, and why the forms I did receive never seemed to provide me with the information I was looking for. Yes, it was always nice to read that the child had enjoyed the outing, but could I really claim that their satisfaction with a trip to the zoo meant that the outcome of ‘improved communication skills’ had been achieved, for example? Probably not.
I realise now that the reason for not getting strong outcome evidence was twofold.
Firstly, the questions asked on the feedback form were not the right ones, because they didn’t measure relevant outcome indicators (see our Support Guides on outcomes and indicators for a refresher on these important first steps in self-evaluation). In order to know if the child’s communication skills had been improved, for example, it would have made more sense to look for indicators like their ability to start a conversation with their befriender, their willingness to order their own lunch in the café, the appropriateness of the questions they asked the zoo staff, and so on.
The second issue was that the method of evidence collection itself wasn’t fit-for-purpose. Some volunteer befrienders said that it didn’t feel right to bring out a feedback form and ask their befriendee to complete it with them at the end of an otherwise informal and relaxed outing. They were, rightfully, reluctant to spoil the rapport they’d worked hard to build up with their respective befriendees, many of whom already had several form-wielding professionals in their lives and found sanctuary in the befriending service because it allowed them some time out to simply be children in a relaxed and fun environment. Instead of a feedback form that they were expected to complete with the child at the end of the outing, something like simple observation or capturing casual moments might have been a more appropriate way to ask volunteers to collect outcome evidence (see our Support Guide on how to choose or design suitable evaluation methods here).
So, if you find yourself struggling to collect the evidence you need, it’s worth asking yourself not only if you are asking the right questions but also if the methods you’re using to ask them are as fit-for-purpose and easy for people to engage with as they could be.