The Evaluation Exchange: A Celebration
By sejjgpi, on 12 April 2018
The Evaluation Exchange was a pilot programme led by the UCL Public Engagement Unit and Aston-Mansfield that brought together researchers from across UCL and community organisations from Newham in east London.
On the 22nd March we held a celebration to mark the end of the Evaluation Exchange and to recognise the huge achievements made by those involved. The room was full of staff and students from UCL, people from community organisations and those involved with the local council. This was an event that we in the Public Engagement Unit (PEU) had been looking forward to for months. It’s rare that we get everyone involved in a project in the same room to share and celebrate their success, and as Laura Cream (Head of Public Engagement) said in her welcome, the prospect of the celebration ‘got us through the snowy wastes of March’. Setting the context for the reason behind the Evaluation Exchange, Laura spoke to addressing the question of what voluntary sector organisations (VSOs) in east London needed to thrive in an increasingly difficult environment. So the Evaluation Exchange was born – an initiative to facilitate knowledge exchange between researchers and VSOs, allowing researchers to gain a working understanding of VSOs and the landscape of the third sector, as well skills in teamwork and project management. The VSOs would learn research techniques related to evaluation, and be equipped with tools to measure the success of their projects. This is a programme embedding the principles of the PEU; one that involves mutual benefit for both parties involved, addresses a real need, and gives a voice to seldom heard groups.
Professor Andrew Brown, Pro-Vice-Provost of London, spoke about the local community (he used to be a teacher in an east London primary school not far from the Olympic park) and how important investment in thelocal community is. As he put it, UCL is not in the top 10 university rankings because of its solo standing- it’s because of the neighbourhood in which it exists, and our relationship with the communities within those neighbourhoods. This emphasis on the importance of community investment was echoed in the words of Rachel Tripp, councillor for Forest Gate north, who likened partnerships within the community to a garden- needing topsoil, water, deep roots and someone to turn the earth.
Hearing from the groups involved was the real highlight of the celebration event, bringing the whole project to life. First up were team Caritas Anchor House, who (through the medium of a swanky trailer and video) told us of their approach to embedding the user voice in to their practice through the Nominal Group Technique. Staff at the VSO found this to be such an effective way of generating and understanding data that they are now using this technique in different scenarios- such as in their team meetings. Both researchers and VSO staff members said the experience had been ‘beyond measure’ and that they would definitely take part in the programme again. Following this, we heard from team Magpie Project, who took us through their theory of change and a new approach to measuring wellbeing in the mums who use their service. We got a real sense of just how many people the Mapgie Project serve and how much it is needed. The Renewal Programme team shared with us their method of evaluating ladies over 60s ESOL classes- which were a really important place for people using the service to come together and socialise. Those attending the classes reported wide ranging beneficial impacts on many aspects of day to day living. They ended their presentation by saying that throughout this process, the researchers and VSO staff had become good friends.
Team Modern Arnis talked about how they tackled the problem of creating a suite of evaluation tools that assessed outcomes for a variety of stakeholders, while making it practical for use by a VSO that is made up of just one person. They used their individual skills and expertise to create these tools, and embedded a process by which data could be analysed and visualised easily. Next up were team Alternatives, who told us about the amazing impact the charity has on the lives of the women they support, and how they created a streamlined evaluation framework involving new questionnaires and introducing a quantitative measure (cue the researchers with quantitative data analysis backgrounds!). The research team talked about how good it was to collaborate with other people from different disciplines- a contrast to the sometimes lonely PhD experience. Finally, we heard from team IROKO, who told us all about the new evaluation techniques they devised for very different programmes, and the response they received. All teams have co created an evaluation report and guide to using the new methods, so that they can continue to be used in the future.
What struck us at the PEU was just how much work was achieved over such a short period of time- and how high quality this work was. We were in awe. It was also really wonderful to see the bonds that had formed within each team, with many saying they’ll certainly be keeping in touch now that the programme has finished. This was definitely a bonus outcome for the Evaluation Exchange.
Finally, the celebration brought to the fore that relationships between universities and our communities are vital, needed and of great value to both. As Andrew Brown said, this sort of initiative fosters both research enhanced practice, as well as practice enhanced research. This two way exchange is hugely beneficial to both communities and universities.
So, what next for the Evaluation Exchange? We don’t have an answer yet, but hope you’ll stay tuned to find out. For now, all that’s left to do is to say a massive thank you and well done to all the researchers and VSOs involved, without whom none of this would have been possible.