Why bother involving people in service evaluation?
As part of our ongoing conversation around ‘user-focused public services’, Martha Lester-Cribb explores Evaluation Support Scotland’s work in encouraging third sector organisations to involve service users, consumers and the general public in the evaluation of their services. Also, check out the video above that Highland SDS Consortium created on SDS user involvement and see how service users with learning disabilities or mental ill health have been trained to evaluate existing services as part of the project and talk about their experiences.
Why bother involving people in evaluation? Beyond Feedback
There’s a really good chance that you already ask your service users to tell you what they think about your project. Hopefully, you even listen to what they say and are open to tweaking your service on that basis!
But… have you ever thought about the potential benefits and challenges of involving the people you work with in:
- defining your project outcomes
- designing information collection tools
- collecting and recording data
- analysing information
- compiling reports and/or
- deciding what actions (if any) to take on the basis of what you learn.
Working with organisations which were already experienced in involving their service users in their work (although not necessarily in evaluation), ESS recently developed a free electronic workbook which helps you to think about whether and how to take the next steps listed above. It’s an interactive PDF file – you can type, save and edit the file and share it with others.
We ran a workshop at a conference last year (Looking Back – Looking Forward) to introduce delegates to the
workbook. Ellie Wolf from the Highland SDS Consortium (one of the projects involved in developing the workbook) spoke about her experience of involving service users in evaluation. She encouraged people to have the confidence to give it a go and be willing to adapt what they do over time. Her key message was not to feel that you have to involve everyone in everything as in her experience that’s not what the people you work with want either!
Her service users told her they didn’t want to do the boring bits: “that’s what we pay you for!”. She also described the difference between “user led” and “user owned” – pointing out that it may well not be appropriate for service users to lead every aspect of a work, but they can still own it.
We had an ulterior motive in running this workshop – we wanted to find out what other services people would like ESS to offer to support them to use the ‘Why bother’ workbook. Delegates were asked to think about this from three different perspectives and came up with some useful suggestions, including:
- help to look at grant applications to identify whether the project has planned to involve the people they work with in evaluation and/or how they could do this
- workshops to explain the resources required in order to involve people in evaluation of projects
Service delivery organisations
- evidence that funders are willing to accept this type of evidence
- training in using/developing accessible tools
Intermediaries / policy makers
- advice on how to support projects with culture change towards greater involvement of the people they work with – e.g. a self-assessment tool
- video snapshots to bring to life how people are involved at each stage of evaluation and showing how they have moved through the spectrum
Delegates had good first impressions of the workbook –
The ‘Why bother involving people in evaluation? – Beyond feedback’ workbook can be found here.
Once you’ve had the chance to take a look at the workbook, please do send us your ideas of other support ESS could offer. We would also love to hear about your experience of using the workbook and hope to write some more case studies of organisations which have experimented with involving the people they work with in evaluation. Even if you simply want to be kept informed of future developments in this area of our work (which is one of ESS’ current strategic priorities), please get in touch by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org