What makes a good evaluation?

Being able to demonstrate the impact of a charity’s services is increasingly important. Many large funders, including the Big Lottery Fund, now expect organisations (re)applying to them for existing services to demonstrate the project’s outcomes and impact through an external evaluation. This is an evaluation carried out by someone from outside of the organisation, who can bring a truly objective viewpoint.

As a result, many organisations, consultants and even university departments now offer external evaluation services. However, these evaluations, despite being relatively expensive, can be of variable quality. We have externally evaluated £2.7million worth of programmes, many funded by the Big Lottery. We ensure our external evaluations support both fundraising and future project development, meaning that they can bring ‘maximum benefit’ to charities.

Our evaluations include:

  • A quantitative analysis of a project’s progress against its original targets. This enables a charity to accurately report to the funder.
  • Qualitative data from project beneficiaries, for example through focus groups and beneficiary case studies. This data is carefully analysed against the expected project outcomes, to fully understand the project’s social impact.
  • A cost-benefit analysis of how the per beneficiary cost of the project relates to the costs to society of not providing the support. This is often crucial in persuading funders that an ‘expensive’ project is in fact very good value when considering the millions of pounds ‘saved’ in avoided costs to local services, the NHS and the criminal justice system!
  • Recommendations on how the project, and the management and organisational systems that support it, can be improved. This is often missing in other evaluations, but we believe it is crucial. Without this information, charities may understand a project needs to improve, but aren’t given a clear steer on how this can be achieved. Without these recommendations, it is also harder to make clear to a funder how you will develop and improve a project – key information for the majority of funders who may fund an existing service.

This approach has proven to be successful with our clients. Bright Ideas undertook yearly external evaluations of Victim Support’s Young Victims’ Project, over a three year period.

This project was funded by the Big Lottery’s Reaching Communities Fund, and the evaluations supported the reporting process. These evaluations involved focus groups with young people, aged 6 to 21, who had been victims of serious crimes; as part of this we had to be conscious of data protection, ethical issues and other sensitivities.

We had to ask the young people questions about their experiences sensitively to avoid re-traumatising them. The evaluations made clear recommendations to improve the project over its lifetime to secure the best possible outcomes for beneficiaries. The final evaluation also made future recommendations, which formed the foundation of a successful reapplication to the Big Lottery Fund.

Do get in touch if you are considering undertaking an external evaluation of one of your projects.