Evaluating the 2017 scale accelerator cohort

Spring Impact recently ended its second annual Scale Accelerator programme. Scale Accelerator seeks to support a range of organisations during the early stages of their scale journey, providing expertise and support so that they can begin to scale strategically and sustainably.

This year, Spring Impact worked in partnership with The Social Innovation Partnership to support six organisations covering a range of issues from food poverty to rehabilitation.

Marion Brossard is a consultant for The Social Innovation Partnership who led the evaluation strand of the Scale Accelerator from April to November 2017. We invited Marion to talk about what you should look out for as you scale and the importance of Measuring and Evaluation (M&E)

 

ANSWERING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

“A key part of the Scale Accelerator programme is working through the tough but important questions. The first question ‘how are we going to bring about change?’ can be best answered using the ‘Theory of Change’ (ToC) model. ToC looks at an organisations long-term aims and works backwards to define the actions required to bring this change to fruition.

We began by working through, improving and creating new ToCs for each organisation.  Through a series of workshops, we identified the key outcomes they wanted to pursue, and how they would ensure that their impact would remain sustainable at scale.

Often, charities understand what their vision is, but not how their work will enable their vision. By working through this key factor, charities can gain an understanding of what actually drives the majority of their impact, and what needs to be tested to ensure continuous improvement of their delivery.

For the organisations who were part of the Scale Accelerator, looking at their ToC gave them an opportunity to:

  • ensure their existing activities led to the outcomes they wanted to see;
  • identify how to achieve a new ultimate goal once their initial goal is attained by their future scale;
  • consider what their USPs are; and
  • what they wanted possible partners to help them achieve.

A clear ToC also ensures clarity across an organisation. Guaranteeing that all levels of the organisation are aligned before scaling starts.

 

The next big question: How do we know we’re actually having an impact?

In this year’s cohort, some of the organisations were keeping track of their impact through informal conversations with beneficiaries. But to prepare to scale, conversations around impact need to be tracked and formalised.

A formalised and measurable process ensures that the data received is valid, reliable and provides a clear opportunity to demonstrate impact. Formalising the process also allowed the participants to develop evaluation plans, linked to their desired outcomes. Implementing these plans internally will be their first step as they prepare to scale. This will allow the organisations to effectively monitor and evaluate their impact, ultimately garnering leverage that they can use to seek funding and develop partnerships.

Scaling is a highly effective way to increase the impact of a project. Through scale you can increase the number of individuals who receive and benefit from your work. So, it is important for an organisation to consider how they will track that impact, early in their journey.

If not, future M&E challenges will likely prevent that organisation, their partners, and their funders from understanding overall impact, especially the impact that scaling had on the lives of individuals who access those services.”

 

QUESTIONS IN ACTION: CASE STUDIES

WEvolution

WEvolution brings together groups of people from disadvantaged backgrounds with aspirations for a better life into Self-Reliant Groups (SRG).  SRG members develop bonds, friendships, skills, savings, and support one another to create income-generating opportunities for themselves.

WEvolution has seen incredible success and traction of their innovative SRG model. However, when considering scale, it became clear that having clarity around the impact that the model was making, beyond the immediate feedback from members, was a necessity.

A disruptive model, the SRGs support individuals to regain a sense of control over their lives, and mainly, to enable them to pursue and reach their own goals. This made evaluation seem like a constrictive exercise. However, working through the ToC helped to establish clarity as to what outcomes are of most importance to the team and their SRG members, and therefore, what needs to be considered when scaling. Despite there being a large amount of desired and expected outcomes, this exercise helped identify what was necessary to be monitored and ensured across any future partners. WEvolution then developed an evaluation plan and a set of survey questions aligned to these outcomes which will help their partners track SRG members’ progress over time, and will hopefully secure further funding.

 

Alexandra Rose Charity

Alexandra Rose is a charity which uses a food voucher programme to support healthy eating and alleviate food poverty – it aims to not only improve the diets and health of individual families, but also tackle the more systemic problem of unhealthy local food economies.

At the start of the Scale Accelerator, Alexandra Rose had a strong vision of the change they hoped to make, coupled with several questions about what would enable this vision to happen. Did their remit fall on improving local food economies, or not, and what would help them achieve their vision of low income families with improved health and well-being, thanks to healthier diets?

TSIP worked with Alexandra Rose and their board to begin answering some of these questions and to identify any assumptions which they were making about the impact of their work. By creating a ToC, Alexandra Rose established a single, aligned vision within the organisation and set the stage for the next step: establishing communications aligned to their recent strategic changes. Alexandra Rose now sees a clear path towards communicating who they are. They have begun addressing key questions which emerged about the implementation of their programme, and the role that local food markets play on the health and wellbeing of local families.

 

OTHER THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

As any organisation continues on its scale journey, it’s also important to consider:

Capacity, both yours and your partners.

This is likely the most important challenge whilst also serving as a key consideration. There is often a deficit in capacity to take this on – however, the sooner it is implemented, the less of a demand on time and resources it will take to implement.

IT capabilities and skills

When scaling, organisations will need to ensure that they have the systems in place to manage the data they will be collecting. These systems, which can range from formal database management systems to macro-enabled spreadsheets, will require staff training and sufficient personalisation for ease of use. When working with partners, clear instructions are a necessity, as are simplified input fields for anyone to be able to partake in data entry.

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