To show change or track progress you need to first find your starting point. That is where your start measuring from before you begin your project. You then need to gather information at set times during the project (for example beginning, middle and end) which shows you what progress you are making.
Some organisations working call this ‘distance travelled’. This method can useful to track the progress of soft outcomes.
Evaluating: At the end of your project you will review your performance measures to see if you have indeed made a difference and achieved your outcomes.
The things that you pick to measure the progress you are making can be called different things, including performance measures, outputs, targets and outcomes.
Here we will call the things you measure as performance measures. Achieving your performance measures should tell you are achieving your project outcomes.
The job of finding the right performance measures usually involves finding specific things you can measure in your project. Don’t be afraid of coming up with an unexpected way to see if something has worked or not.
According to R.B.A. The performance measures relating to effect are the most important. The example on the following pages should help you get a feel of the kind of questions you should be asking and help you work out the best questions for your project.
2. Establish a baseline
Establishing your Baselines: This is the term used by R.B.A. which refers to checking the things you are going to measure before you begin your project, activity or service. Your baseline is your starting point. It’s the information you collect that tells you where you are at the beginning of the project. Baselines are also a useful tool to evidence need.
The best way to check your project is making a difference is to ask people:
- before you do your project
- and then ask again after you’ve done your project
You need to be quick off the mark. You want to show your project has made a difference so you need to check where you are starting from. Choose your activity and then plan to do your start or ‘before’ measure at the soonest possible opportunity.
Then you’ll need to do it again at the end. You need to agree when the end is and when you will collect this information. Think about when you’ll see the people to ask them these questions.
For longer and ongoing projects you will need to check progress during the project. This could be in the every three months, in the middle. Try and decide how often you need this information and how realistic is it to collect it. By measuring how you are doing against your start point or baseline, you will be able to quickly identify whether it’s working. If not, what you need to change to make it work before it’s too late!
Make sure that you leave enough time to show a difference has happened.
What if the project has already started?
Some of the measures don’t need to happen before and after. You can ask people what they have gained, such as more confidence or skills. It can be a simple question at the end of your project.
3. Gather information
You have agreed what changes you want to make (outcomes) and how to measure them to check these changes have happened (performance measures). You now need to decide how you will gather the right information and how often.
We have made this easy for you by giving ways to involve your participants and groups. Of course, you may have your own ideas about how to collect this information. Try to think of different and fun ways to involve people, they usually work best.
Some people choose traditional methods of collecting information such as:
- written surveys – paper, email, online;
- interviews – face to face or telephone interviews;
- observing people
- Written information, such as progress reports.
You may use this for a community project, but we ALWAYS recommend that you involve people to collect this information. You may find that written surveys do not really tell you what you want to know.
Some people do not like filling out written surveys. We think it’s important to ask people what they prefer. This can help them feel involved rather than ‘having something being done to them’. This approach is especially meaningful when measuring soft skills as it allows people to be part of and see their own progress. This can be very powerful and inspiring.
You will need to decide when you will gather this information. It may be easier to collect it during day to day activities. Sometimes you might find it easier to hold a separate event before, during and after the project just for this.
4. Asking the Right Questions
It is important to make sure that you ask the right questions in the right way.
Gathering information takes time and effort. It can be frustrating if you don’t get the information you need.
Think carefully about what you want to find out. The answers need to tell you if you are achieving your outcome.
Make sure you are not putting anyone on the spot or asking them to reveal something they may not want to share, especially if you are working in a group.
Here is an example. You want to find out if your café for people with experiencing poor mental health has impact on how they feel. If you ask ‘How do you feel?’ they will answer based on how they are feeling at that specific time. This will be influenced by lots of things that have happened to them. Instead make your question more specific. You could ask,
‘How confident do you feel as a result of coming to the café?’; or
‘Have you met new people as a result of coming to the café?’
Asking people to give a score or rating for this kind of question at the beginning, middle and end of your project can be very useful. This can help you quantify the impact of your project on the people involved.
There are tools in the activities section to help you do this.
Things to think about when asking questions:
- Make sure your questions are specific and relate to your outcome.
- Explain to your participants what you are doing and why.
- Ask a mixture of closed and open questions. With closed questions you can collect things like numbers and percentages (e.g. 15 people or 20% felt that they felt more confident after visting the
café’). With open questions, you can often get more in depth responses (e.g. I felt more confident because Jenny made me feel really welcome). This is called qualitative information.
- Explain what you are going to do with the information and talk about what is confidential.
- Try a pilot with a small group to test that your questions are working and you are getting the information you need to measure change.
- Make sure
- Try a range of different ways of asking the questions so you can adapt to your participants and how they like to work.
5. Involve groups in information gathering
Here are a few golden rules of working with groups:
Make sure they know why they are there
It is vital that you make sure your aims are clear to people and allow them to decide if they wish to take part. Explain fully what you are hoping to get out of the process and what you can and cannot do. It is important that all those involved have realistic expectations.
Agree the boundaries
Try to set boundaries early on. We favour an approach called ‘Making it Work’, the first activity of the toolkit because it should come early in any group work setting. It allows everyone involved to have a say in how the process will work and express any specific needs they may have.
Find out about any specific needs or disabilities
If you are responsible for the activity, it is your job to make sure that everyone can be involved. Try to:
- Gather information about the group before the sessions
- Be prepared to make changes if something doesn’t work for someone in your group does not get
- Be aware that lots of people are not comfortable with reading and writing
- Make plans for people who are unable to move around easily.
- Give people the opportunity and support to get involved, but let them have the space and choice to decide not to get involved
Take care of basic needs
Make sure you provide a pleasant environment to work in, it should be warm and welcoming. People will
respond better when they are comfortable. At the very least make sure you have drinks available, brains don’t work very well without them. Breaks are essential, and best will also be valued and valuing.
Don’t put people on the spot
The activities in the toolkit are designed to allow people to contribute without feeling pressured or ‘on the spot’. Some people will volunteer themselves, this is fine but allow the group to contribute as much or as little as they want. For example avoid directing people to speak, allow them to let you know when they have a contribution to make. Avoid activities which move relentlessly round the group like a searchlight.
Brains fall asleep or at least, lose concentration very quickly if you leave them in one place for too long. Give your group the opportunity to move around. Divide people into groups or use games and activities in your session. Giving plenty of breaks can do the job. There are plenty of good books and on line resources that will help you with games in training.
Have some support and look after yourself
Most of the activities you will find in this toolkit benefit from one person leading with someone to help. Being fully prepared with all the materials ready will help. You may want to get some training in group work to help you plan and deal with challenging situations
Make sure your group know what you are going to do with their views and how they are going to help
with your planning, monitoring, evaluation and funding processes. Let them know how they can access the findings.
Make sure you prepare an activity to end your session. This should always include a clear ‘thank you and good bye’ and an explanation of the next steps for them or the information they have provided. We have provided some ‘end’ activities in the Toolkit.
Before you run any of the activities in this toolkit, you should decide how you are going to record and collect the information.
Remember to record:
- The date of the session
- Where it was held
- How many people participated
- Age and whether male or female
We recommend that you check out:
- The National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales; and
- The National Children and Young People’s Participation Standards for Wales.