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How to use your evaluation findings to improve your work

Evaluating projects, programmes – or even the work of your whole organisation – can be a transformational step in making sure the work you do is of the highest quality, making it as effective as possible, based on robust evidence.

Without a focus on improvement and learning, evaluation becomes a tick-box exercise; something that has to be done to please someone else. Used effectively, your findings can shape the work you do in the future and focus attention on how to achieve your intended outcomes and impact. In short, it can bring you closer to realising the change your organisation wants to see. 

1

Share your learning with others

While you may have guided the process from the beginning, this might be the first time other people involved with your organisation hear about your evaluation. Sharing your learning is an important part of the process – for transparency, accountability and so you can plan how to improve.

Think about who needs to know about your evaluation. Not everyone involved with your organisation necessarily needs to know all your evaluation findings; what is useful to your trustees might not be what your volunteers want to hear about. Evaluations don’t always draw big crowds, so be creative – consider a lunchtime session for staff, a blog or short video for your supporters, or a paper summary for trustees.

What do you want people to do with the information? This will change what you share, how you share it, and how people will respond. If you want people to engage with the findings – and take action – a more active workshop could be most effective.

For tips on sharing learning with people outside your organisation, see our guides on using your evaluation findings to engage with external audiences and sharing your findings with funders and donors.

2

Celebrate the positives

If your findings show good news, celebrate! Recognise the achievements of staff, showcase the success stories of your organisation, and emphasise the way your work is making a difference. It could be a group email, a box of chocolates, a team pizza, or a pay reward; celebrate in whatever way makes sense to you, your team and organisation.

Recognising and celebrating the positive findings isn’t just about making people feel good. Motivating your staff – and your volunteers – will make them more effective, more engaged in the work, and less likely to leave your organisation. Read more about motivation and engagement in our recruiting and managing staff section. Sharing achievements with beneficiaries can motivate them too, and can contribute to further improved outcomes.

3

Make improvements to your work

If your evaluation highlights areas where you can improve, don’t ignore them. Doing what you have always done, or sticking with what is safe, is not going to make you the best organisation you can be – and it may not be what is most effective for your beneficiaries. Approach these discussions openly and with care: improvement is about learning, not blame.

Evaluation findings could be used to:

  • improve your existing services to maximise the likelihood that outcomes will occur. You might need to update the information you provide, change the content of your training or support provision, or revise your campaigning communications to supporters or policy makers.
  • ensure you are reaching your intended beneficiaries. Consider whether the people or organisations you have worked with are those you had anticipated, or those who would benefit most from your work. If not, do you need to change anything about how you publicise your work, your eligible target group, or about the way in which you deliver your activities to make them more accessible?  
  • improve work with individual beneficiaries. Outcomes data can be useful for casework as well as looking at the effectiveness of whole services. If a beneficiary is not achieving their desired outcomes, what could you both do differently?
  • review your internal processes so you work effectively and in a way most likely to achieve outcomes. For example, you might look at your methods for training or supporting staff and volunteers, your relationships with partners or referring organisations, or at your project’s decision-making processes.

When planning improvements to your work, make sure you consider how to make them manageable. When should you time your changes? Who will need to approve and implement them? What resources are needed?

Don’t forget to evaluate your monitoring and evaluation. Refine your monitoring processes so you are collecting useful data that will help you make future decisions and plan your work effectively. This may include looking at what IT you need to store and manage data.

Remember, deciding what needs to change is not the sole responsibility of the evaluator. The team at Better Evaluation recommend creating a full plan for what actions you’re going to take next.

4

Use the findings in your planning processes

Robust evidence is essential to making informed decisions about the future. Use your evaluation findings to inform your organisation’s planning.

If you have a programme or organisational theory of change, this is a good moment to revisit it. Do your evaluation findings support the theory? Have your outputs led to the outcomes you had intended? Did your assumptions hold true?

You may need to change the way you work. You might need to develop new ways of working to bring about your intended outcomes, or maybe your intended outcomes were unrealistic or not correct. If your theory turns out not to be accurate, understand why and consider changing it.

Use your evaluation findings for organisational planning to help you:

  • prioritise activities most likely to lead to changes for your beneficiaries and allocate – or fundraise for – resources around these
  • identify activities which are not leading to desired outcomes so you can stop or change them
  • understand what level of intervention is needed to achieve the best outcomes for the largest number of beneficiaries. Some organisations find that they can reduce their level of intervention and still achieve their desired outcomes, thereby allowing them to work with more people or organisations
  • identify any unmet need in your beneficiary group or potential new beneficiary groups. This might signal that you need to develop new services, programmes or campaigns, or that you need to try and encourage the development of additional services by other organisations
  • assess context. Identify whether aspects of the environment in which you are working are affecting the outcomes you achieve, eg if a lack of available rented property is hindering your ability to rehouse clients, you might need to campaign about this locally
  • consider scaling up. Plan which elements of an initiative should be scaled up (if you are looking to grow) or could be replicated in other areas or by other organisations
  • review staff skills and your organisation’s recruitment needs
  • develop your organisational strategy and set appropriate priorities – read more in our strategy and planning section.
5

Establish an impact culture as a learning organisation

Organisations are complex and the people inside them have different priorities, positions and perspectives. ‘We can improve’ can too easily be interpreted as ‘you’re not doing your job well enough’. Honesty and integrity are vital – but so is being sensitive. Building evaluation findings into your existing organisational processes, such as through appraisals and performance management, will make this easier. Make learning a key part of regular supervisions, collaborate with individuals from across different teams to help solve problems, or begin your organisational planning processes with an honest review.

An impact culture starts with a shared set of values: from the very top, your organisation needs to commit to positively engaging with evaluation and encouraging individuals to reflect and change based on evidence. The Inspiring Impact section on impact leadership has some useful resources to help. For a helpful guide on being a learning organisation – one that makes learning part of everyone’s daily job – see this Harvard Business Review article. This takes long-term commitment, time and patience. 

Further information

  • This how-to was contributed by NCVO Charities Evaluation Services and produced as part of Inspiring Impact – a UK-wide collaborative programme supporting a focus on impact in the voluntary sector.
  • NPC’s paper Data with destiny describes the Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom model for organisational improvement: how monitoring data and evaluation information can be transformed into organisational knowledge and leadership wisdom. Their full paper includes a number of case studies of organisations doing exactly this.

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Page last edited Aug 18, 2017 History

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