Any church group or voluntary organisation managing funded projects will, at some point in their lifetime, consider evaluating their work. For some, this will be an exciting prospect. For others, who dislike formality, paperwork and procedures, they will see this as a distraction.
In the final weeks of 2013, our BeFriend In Bellshill project commissioned an independent evaluation. As we hoped, the evaluation validated the progress made towards our funding objectives, and identified development areas for future project work.
A consultant is someone who takes the watch off your wrist and tells you the time! Widely available consultancy joke
So we ask ourselves: what worked for us, and what would we do if repeating the process? We started with a clear purpose, definite timescales and a plan of actions, backed up with a strong brief. We were apprehensive about using an external consultant for reasons of costs and time. Using Befriending Networks consultancy services allayed any fears. They came with prior knowledge of our project and experience specific to befriending projects.
Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around you could miss it. ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, John Hughes, 1986
By our own admission, we can be too focused on service delivery and meeting demand. Project workers and volunteers feel, at times, they are too close to see the full extent of the difference they are making, especially as befriending matches last several months, even years. An external evaluation ensured integrity and objectivity we wouldn’t have attained with self-evaluation, and captured the long term benefits and lasting change experienced by service users.
The evaluation was realised in 12 weeks, starting with initial enquiries in September and ending with the evaluation report in December. While Christmas festivities raged around us, our befriendees, volunteers, board members, staff team and stakeholders engaged in group discussions, interviews and online surveys, which allowed the evaluator to capture responses from a wide group of stakeholders in a short space of time.
The positive findings of our evaluation can be attributed to stakeholders’ eagerness to participate. Every befriendee, volunteer, referrer and board member we asked made themselves available at relatively short notice. Stakeholder involvement in the evaluation also acted as a means of involving project users and encouraging ownership as our project develops.
You know the project is worthwhile and makes a difference but it’s nice to be told. BeFriend in Bellshill Project Worker, January 2014
While the evaluation required additional staff time, project workers have said the process was uplifting and encouraging. The evaluation provided reassurance and motivation that the project has moved in the right direction and met the needs of those they supported.
Taking time out more often to reflect on the work we are doing can only have a positive effect. It doesn’t have to be a costly or time consuming process and an array of evaluation guidance and best practice is available from support services and funding bodies. We should all have a go and see what we learn!
Robert Piper, Development Officer
Orbiston Neighbourhood Centre in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire
About BeFriend In Bellshill
BeFriend In Bellshill are using Go For It funding to provide a befriending service, by training Befrienders to enable isolated elderly and disabled people to access services, develop increased social networks and live more independent lives.
The Project is also supported by the Big Lottery Fund.