Impact Evaluation – Does It Matter To You?

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Impact Evaluation
Measuring Impact – An important part of Project Planning

Impact Evaluation – Does it matter to you?

Charities and social enterprises make a valuable contribution to society. They exist to improve people’s lives by implementing solutions to problems within communities and/or society as a whole. They aim to ‘make a difference’ via the implementation of work resulting from their change programmes and projects.  By programme we mean a series of inter-related projects to meet a strategic goal. Projects are more discrete, often designed to meet a goal within an over-arching program. Whilst charities are busy focusing on the direction in which their programmes/projects are going, they may not necessarily be measuring the impact or change they are making. By impact, we mean the longer term behavioural change that is produced as a result of the efforts of their interventions. One way to measure this change is to use an impact evaluation.


In the current economic climate, with shrinking budgets, austerity measures and increasing demand for transparency, accountability and learning, it is becoming increasingly common for policy makers, grant making agencies and commissioners to request evidence that their investment funding is being used effectively. There is more emphasis to demonstrate and communicate a return on investment. Third sector organisations are increasingly being asked to ‘prove’ or demonstrate the impact’ or achievement(s) that their projects and/or programs are making. Did their efforts make a difference? Were the anticipated goals reached? There is now a drive to go beyond asking questions about whether the outputs of the program were met (e.g. how many people received an intervention). What is now being considered is whether the anticipated results were achieved. Were the shorter term goals (outcomes) met? Did the program achieve the anticipated longer term difference (impact). Some questions that might be asked in relation to demonstrating impact might be ‘to what extent did the program reduce ill health or improve wellbeing’? ‘To what extent did campaigning and/or lobbying activities result in laws being changed’?




Bureaucracy - A roadblock to impact evaluation
Bureaucracy – A roadblock to impact evaluation






Despite the drive to demonstrate impact, a survey carried out by the National Philanthropy Centre in 2012 shows that a quarter of charities do not measure impact. The report cites lack of resources, lack of perceived importance and lack of incentive are cited as important barriers.  Impact measurement is often perceived as a bureaucratic form of regulation that allows others to exert control through performance management. There are signs that things are changing.


Impact evaluation as an opportunity

Some organisations are seeing impact evaluation in a more positive light. A review carried out by the Third Sector Research Centre found that although some organisations embark on impact evaluation because of a push from a funder or commissioner, a small number are using it to their advantage to create opportunities either by exerting power in negotiations with stakeholders or in their marketing campaigns by communicating the ‘added value’ of the services they provide.


According to a 2013 Report by the Third Sector Research Centre, rather than seeing ‘impact evaluation’ as a bureaucratic burden or red tape exercise, some organisations are using impact measurement to gain a competitive advantage. Perceived incentives include developing new working relationships, the possibility of winning new service delivery contracts, attracting funding or raising the organisation’s profile. In some cases it may be used to assist with lobbying for policy change, helping with planning applications or to attract new trustees and motivate staff.


Does impact evaluation matter?

Within your organisation, are you feeling the need to evaluate the effectiveness of your project and/program?  If so, what challenges are you facing trying to provide evidence about your successes? What about areas that haven’t worked so well – do you feel able to talk about these honestly with your funder, program staff and beneficiaries?


What (if any) has been the incentive for your organisation to demonstrate the impact of your project and/program?  Have you found that impact evaluation has benefitted your organisation, your beneficiaries, your staff and/or your community in any way? How are you communicating your impact to the public, your stakeholders and funders?  We’d love to hear your views and share your learning with others. Email us your comments on

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