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The power of self-evaluation

The new year marks Nicola Swan’s third month in post as an Evaluation Support Manager.  In this blog Nicola shares some of her first impressions of Evaluation Support Scotland and the way we support the third sector and funders.

Happy New Year all!

My first few months have been fantastic, and a great opportunity to learn loads – I’ve grilled my colleagues for evaluation tips, met a range of organisations using creative ways to evaluate their work and now know how to logic model. Who knew logic modelling had so many different uses? I’ve had some surprises along the way too!

The power of self-evaluation

The main thing that has struck me during my short time in post is just how much caffeine the ESS team consume!

But on a more serious note, I’ve noticed third sector organisations find self-evaluation serves many purposes.  Rather than seeing it as only relevant when reporting to funders, being able to articulate impact can help share learning and good practice, inspire teams and attract volunteers.  At a recent Inspiring Impact event, one participant told me “People work with us because they want to make a difference and our evidence helps me keep the team motivated that they are making a difference”.  

In a previous role, while delivering a work placement programme I fell into the trap of thinking that evaluation is really only for my funder and that an external evaluator is the best way forward.  Being here at ESS has shown me the value of self-evaluation and that it’s not that difficult to set outcomes, indicators and find the right evaluation methods, and that incorporating evaluation in everyday activities and practice is most effective.  If you are interested in how to embed evaluation, check out Making it stick, which includes information on how to involve staff, volunteers and trustees in evaluation.

The way we work

Attending the Let’s Evaluate workshops was the ideal induction to evaluation.  Feedback shows that our training and support is extremely valuable, with practical examples and a supportive tone.  I certainly noticed several ‘lightbulb’ moments in the sessions I attended.  For some, this was an opportunity to take a fresh look at their outcomes and for others having the time and space to get creative with their evaluation methods and do away with an unsuitable questionnaire was a turning point.  Our new series of Let’s Evaluate workshops are available here.  

A partnership of equals

It’s clear that the traditional power dynamics of funders vs funded organisations is really changing. I’ve noticed a real sense of a partnership approach between some funders and their grantholders.  One funder told me they tell the organisations they fund “You are the experts.  We can only learn from you and we’ll support you to learn”.  From our experience of working with both we have compiled these Top tips for funded organisations and Top tips for funders to help continue building good relationships.

But it’s clear some myths persist.  In my first few weeks, I was surprised to hear several third sector organisations say to me “funders are only interested in numbers”.  Recent conversations with some of the funders we work with through our Evaluation Support Accounts show that this is definitely not the case!

Starting a new year is always a good time to reflect on the last year but also an opportunity to look forward to the next. So as I come back to work on this freezing cold morning I am looking forward to three things:

These are some of my evaluation milestones. What’s on the horizon for you this year?  Are you facing any challenges with evaluation?  If so, we can help in several different ways, including a support session tailored for your organisation. Alternatively sign up to our mailing list to receive information on all our latest events.