In May last year I wrote about how commissioners could improve their commissioning of external evaluations for social impact. It struck me that the advice I gave was quite technical (well it was for the UK Evaluation Society’s journal) and there were a few things not included that most of us would want to think about when commissioning a social impact review.
Purpose: why do you want to do the social impact review?
Have you been asked to do a review by a donor as part of your grant requirements? Do you want to understand your impact as part of a strategic planning process? Understanding why you are doing this exercise in the first instance will help you to get internal buy-in to the review process from leadership and the operational teams that will be affected by the review process. It also helps the reviewer / evaluator understand the priority that this review process has in the organisation’s work. If you are not clear about why you’re doing something (see also last week’s blog), then you cannot expect others to be clear on how and why they are involved in the review process.
Utility: how do you intend to use the results of the social impact review?
Is this simply for reporting to donors? Does the board want to see these results? Does the SMT want to use the results in its planning processes? This might not change what the reviewer(s) do, but should change how the results are presented and the focus of the recommendations that arise from the review process.
Participation: who do you envisage will participate in designing the review and be a part of the data collection processes?
Apart from the obvious logistical requirements, it is always good to manage expectations about participation. Does the whole team need to set aside a day to be in an evaluation design workshop or stakeholder analysis workshop? Will teams be involved in focus groups, or individual interviews, or participatory rapid assessment exercises? What about beneficiaries and other stakeholders – how much access can the reviewer / evaluator expect to have, and what sort of notice will you have to give to beneficiaries and stakeholders?
Communication: what will you do to share the results of the review, both internally and externally?
Is the final report for internal use only? Can donors, supporters and other stakeholders see it or see the executive summary? Can you make a web-friendly version? Will the results be shared on social media?
Once you have answers to these four questions, you can commission social impact reviews that meet your needs more clearly – this makes them more useful processes and generally more valued by everyone involved.
Have you ever been involved in a social impact review that was just left on the shelf, gathering digital dust? Want to know more about what makes a good social impact review or evaluation?