Weaving an evidential tapestry: our journey in the Realising Ambition programme

 

Rachel Preen from Winston’s Wish shares what the charity has learned through taking part in the Realising Ambition programme.

The Realising Ambition programme often talks about the idea of a ‘tapestry of evidence’ ranging from evidence of the need for a service to the organisation’s ability to deliver it. Through building up this tapestry an organisation can have confidence it can robustly deliver services in a way that will improve outcomes for the people it supports.

The Winston’s Wish journey

Winston’s Wish has come a long way in building up its tapestry of evidence since being awarded Realising Ambition funding in 2012. We have been funded to replicate ‘SWITCH’, our early- intervention programme supporting bereaved children and young people. Realising Ambition has enriched our organisation’s understanding of evidence. At the beginning of the programme I naively thought evidence was just data gathered from questionnaires given to beneficiaries. Turns out I had a lot to learn!

Starting with what you have

We began constructing our tapestry by identifying what evidence we already had. We were already collecting some information that we had not before considered as evidence. For example, we recorded which agencies referred young people to us, and gathered feedback from beneficiaries and partners via feedback slips. From here we began filling the gaps. The consortium managing Realising Ambition supported us to understand what it was we could and should gather evidence on and how to do so. We now collect a wide range of information including beneficiary retention data, Strengths and Difficulties questionnaires (SDQs), and partner testimonies. This information has allowed us to assemble a more robust picture of the impact our service is having.

Going beyond data collection

Realising Ambition has taught us that it’s not enough to just build a bank of data. You need the right knowledge and expertise to understand the information and know what to do with it. We ended up investing in a researcher who could interpret our data and create a narrative around it. This has given us the confidence to share our evidence externally and use it to successfully engage with a number of funders and commissioners. My advice to any organisation wanting to evidence its impact is that it needs to give considerable thought to the skilled resource required to analyse the information it gathers, in addition to the resource needed to collect it.

Understanding the value of evidence

Our involvement with Realising Ambition has taught us the value of evidence – so much so that we have taken our approach to evaluating SWITCH and rolled it out across the whole organisation.  This has been a real organisational journey for us. We have been asked by a number of organisations to share how we evaluate what we do, and I now feel Winston’s Wish is in a better position to demonstrate evaluation in the charity sector. This isn’t the end though; our tapestry is ever evolving as we continue to collect and analyse further data on our programmes. Realising Ambition has set us in good stead for continuing to weave this evidence together.

 

Rachel Preen is Head of Partnerships at Winston’s Wish.

Realising Ambition is a £25m Big Lottery Funded programme that aims to build up an evidence base for what works to prevent youth offending. The programme is supporting 22 organisations across the UK to replicate 25 services, each of which aims to prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system. Realising Ambition is managed by a consortium led by Catch22 with the Dartington Social Research UnitSubstance and The Young Foundation as consortium partners.

 

Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.