Jamie Evans is on the Research Team at the Community Development Foundation.
Whether it’s putting a smile on the face of a single child or helping to protect the whole planet from global warming, community groups do things that really do change the world.
Proving this to funders, the wider public and even yourselves can sometimes be a challenge.
This was highlighted by our latest piece of research here at CDF which will be launching very soon. This research is all about trying to understand what groups really need in order to thrive.
We’ve listened to and learnt from numerous studies and projects across the country and found that one of the things groups can struggle with is demonstrating the enormous impact that they have.
With this in mind we’ve come up with a guide to help you show the world what a big difference you really are making.
So what actually is ‘ demonstrating impact’?
The word ‘impact’ can be replaced by other words such as ‘effects’ or ‘outcomes’ but all largely mean the same thing. They’re all about the difference that you as a group make through the work that you do.
Your impact may be the difference that you make to those who directly use the service you provide, to those in the local community more generally or to wider society. It can be wide ranging and can affect multiple aspects of people’s lives.
Take, for example, the Four Greens Doorstep Green in Longley, Sheffield, which was a community-led project to improve four areas of land on a local estate. The project’s initial focus was on improving the environment, but its impacts included reduced crime, improved health, increased skills and a boosted sense of community for local people. The knock-on impacts of a simple change therefore can sometimes be huge.
Why does it matter if we can demonstrate our impact or not?
Although collecting and sharing evidence of your impact can take time and effort, having spoken to Ian and Alex, members of our Programmes team here at CDF, I can assure you that it really is worth it.
Firstly, both told me that those projects which can show the difference they’re making are far better placed to win funding from grant providers. Funders just want to give their money to projects which they think will have the biggest and best impact and need to see evidence that their money has been well spent.
Secondly, they said that demonstrating your impact helps to raise awareness in the local community. This is great for gaining supporters and donations of one kind or another from the local area.
Finally, they told me that by examining the work that you’re doing, you’re better able to determine what your group’s doing well and what it’s not. This means you can identify where you can improve and develop your group, meaning you can do what you do even better than you already do it.
So how can we start showing the difference we’re making?
Of course there’s no right or wrong way for groups to demonstrate their impact, but a useful method to follow comes from Inspiring Impact, a programme which aims to get charities and community groups thinking about their impact. To show the difference you’re making they suggest that you need to go through 4 stages: Plan, Do, Assess, Review.
Plan: As the old adage goes, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. So if you plan your outcomes you’re much better placed to actually achieve them.
We recommend creating a ‘Theory of Change’, which is basically a diagram of what you want to change and how you’re going to go about it. Start by deciding your end outcome(s) and work backwards to figure out what needs to change in order to get there. Try and decide on good things that you could measure to show how close you are to achieving your goals.
Do: Then you can just go about doing what you do, but try and collect a bit of evidence at the same time.
No one expects you to go wild on the evidence hunt, so simple things are often all you need.
Examples of what you can do include keeping an up-to-date register of group members, asking local people to fill out a simple survey, or even just talking to community members and keeping a record of the conversation. Photos and videos are also a good idea – feel free to be as creative as you want!
Assess: When you’ve collected your evidence you can then start to make sense of it all. Though it’s not always easy, try to come up with figures and statistics about your work; you might be able to say, for example, ‘x number of children joined our group in 2014, an increase of x per cent on the previous year’.
You can also try to decipher the general consensus of the community from your conversations with various people. If you can, pick out any key themes or points of interest.
Review: When you’ve done all this, sit down and decide what it means for the group. Work out what you need to improve upon and then feed this back into your planning stage to complete the cycle.
Finally, communicate your findings in every way you can, with everyone that you can. Your group members, the local community and funders will all be delighted to hear what you’re doing. You do some amazing things, so feel free to show off about it!
If you want to find out more about the work that CDF’s Research Team are doing and what support groups need to achieve their work, we’re holding a live discussion here on Just Act with Kelly, CDF’s Research Manager.