Why do we do evaluation? We might want to find out about participants’ experience of a project. We might want to show funders and partners how our project has provided value. We could be testing out new ideas and processes, and we want to reflect on what works and what doesn’t. County Durham Sport believe that the key reason to evaluate any piece of work is to learn about what works, what doesn’t, and how things work – this knowledge can then feed into continuous improvement. This article offers some suggestions for simple and effective ways to evaluate your project.
The most important question: what are you trying to find out?
Understanding this at the start of the work will help you to decide on your methods. You can then plan ahead and evaluate along the way, rather than waiting until the end.
- How will you incorporate learning (e.g. making changes if things aren’t working)? Will you build in moments for reflection throughout your project?
- How might you demonstrate the difference your work has made – does it involve people changing their behaviour? Has the project created more opportunities for a particular group of people?
- How will you gather information in a way that works for your organisation? The most important thing is to be practical – what do you have the time, skills and resources to do?
- Do you want to capture unexpected outcomes from your work?
It’s important to choose methods that will benefit you, as well as gathering information for partners and funders – though often funders have very specific requirements for evaluation and feedback.
What counts as data?
Data is, put simply, bits of information. It can be qualitative (e.g. stories, pictures, videos), or quantitative (e.g. numbers, statistics). Both are useful in different ways, but both only tell some of your story: qualitative data can be great for creating case studies, for instance, but it doesn’t provide statistics which can be helpful. Quantitative data, with its focus on numbers, doesn’t allow you to tell the whole story about your project and what you learned. Try mixing your methods.
Some ideas for data gathering
- Think about how you can capture the story of your work and its impact. What’s changed? What hasn’t?
- County Durham Sport uses a reflection log to help us think about how things are going. We advocate this approach as it helps us to learn from what we have done.
- Think about different modes of data gathering for different participants. People giving feedback might include project participants, coaches, trainers, partners, local press and local council employees.
- What accessibility needs should you consider: Are your methods accessible for children / people with disabilities / people without digital access?
- With children: use approaches that involve the children, such as getting them to take photos, vote with their feet into marked areas in a playground, make a one-minute video, score themselves out of ten at the start and end of a project. Remember to obtain appropriate permissions from parents/carers.
- With adults: simple approaches can include getting participants to take photos, make short videos, complete simple surveys, or add stickers on pre-labelled posters to express opinions.
- Peer research – get participants to do research with their peers.
- Easy ‘free’ opportunities – get people to record video and audio diaries (like using TikTok)
- Remember to include testimonials and social media feedback.
How will you share what you’ve found?
Think about how you will share your information – in a meeting? On a poster? In a newsletter or report? Via social media? Thinking about these outputs can affect what data you gather, and how you go about it.
Your evaluation doesn’t have to be summarised in a long report. Think about other ways of sharing: blogs, videos, podcasts, bullet point lists (e.g. five outcomes, ten actions, a list of things you’ve learned), community meetings.
- The Street Games MEL (monitoring/evaluation/learning) kitbag includes prompts for video/voice notes, interview guides, prompts to support diaries/journals, and guidance on creating project and individual case studies: https://www.streetgames.org/monitoring-and-evaluation-kitbag
- Sport England have question banks with marker questions for key outcomes such as mental wellbeing. You can use these to benchmark what you’ve learned from your project against national metrics https://evaluationframework.sportengland.org/media/1351/sport-england-adult-question-bank.pdf
- County Durham Sport’s Story Map can help you to find out more about physical activity, health and socio-economic status within specific populations within County Durham: Understanding County Durham (arcgis.com)
Article by Clare Danek (Insight and Engagement Officer)