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By Aneta Cram, M.Eval, (Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāti Pahauwera)
Are you working for a not for profit organisation, a small community programme or are you a community member that wants to be engaged and involved in research and the mahi around you? Are you currently grappling with funding applications and are unsure of how to present on the effectiveness of your programme or organisation? These are some of the challenges and questions that Community Research can help you with. Our What Works website provides a platform for sharing ideas and resources on evaluation.

Community Research is an NGO working to support a healthy, thriving and dynamic Tangata Whenua and community and voluntary sector in Aotearoa. We collaborate with people throughout Aotearoa who contribute to its kete of research expertise, te ao Māori approaches and community sector learnings. You can get free access to resources, webinars, reports and tools to support your work as well as sharing back examples of research within your community or tools that have worked well.

We have two other websites:
www.communityresearch.org.nz and whanauoraresearch.co.nz focusing on specific research areas.

The What Works website provides resources that can support service providers, community members, researchers and evaluators. The website draws together tools and resources from sites and contributors both locally and internationally. It aims to help people gather robust data and information to tell a real story about what they are doing and the difference it makes.

In 2013 Community Research surveyed Tangata Whenua and the community and voluntary sector and found that organisations are experiencing significant pressure to evidence their effectiveness and impact. This led to the first stages in the development of the What Works website. In 2015 it launched and has since proved a useful tool for supporting the evaluation a research work conducted in Aotearoa.

What is evaluation? Maria Gajewski, Changing River Consulting, sums it up.

“Evaluation is a field that applies systematic inquiry to help improve programs and personnel as well as the human actions associated with them.”

The What Works site takes you on a journey through an introduction to evaluation – providing the basics on why, where and how evaluation is conducted. Depending on what you are looking for, the site holds resources for individuals who are new to evaluation as well as individuals who have been involved in past evaluation and or research projects.

It is now common for providers to carry out an evaluation before they get further funding. Not only are evaluations useful as a way of reporting back to the funder on the effectiveness of the programme but they also can serve as an opportunity for the provider to improve their programme and understand what works and what doesn’t for the participants.

Evaluations can be conducted at any stage of a programme’s development. For instance, if you are in the pilot phase of your

a journey through an introduction to evaluation, providing the basics on why, where and how evaluation is conducted

programme and you want to make sure that you are doing the best you can to achieve your intended outcomes, then you might commission an evaluation that involves an external evaluator walking alongside you and supporting you to understand what works and how best to improve. This type of evaluation is called a formative approach.

The What Works website has pages and tools to help you understand what you need to commission and what good quality evaluation looks like. Some of the pages include:

  • What is evaluation?
  • How to Amaze your Funders – a free webinar recording of Kate McKegg and Rachel Trotman (evaluation consultants and experts on evaluation) who go into detail about the resources on the What Works website, and
  • Getting Help – this page provides details on when you might need to get outside help from an external evaluator or other expert. It includes tips for commissioning high quality evaluation.

On the other hand, if you have been running a programme for three or more years, and you have an idea of what outcomes are being achieved for people who use or experience your programme, but you are not sure how to convey those outcomes to a funder or the wider community, then you might use some of the tools shared on the site and look to the page on presenting findings.

Some of the pages that might be of use include:

  • Logic Models and Theory of Change – this page introduces the reader to these concepts.
  • Be a Learning Organisation – this page details the importance of reflection, learning as you go and how evaluation can support learning.

Further into the site, once you have an understanding of evaluation and evaluation tools and methods, the site provides stories of communities and programs and how evaluation or a specific tool has been of benefit to them.

One example is the story of, Dad and Me: Strengthening the Bond between Father and Child. This story highlights how Presbyterian Support East Coast (PSEC) has used Results Based Accountability throughout its organisation and how this has proved useful and effective for them as an organisation.

In short, the What Works website is packed with resources for someone who needs to commission evaluation, evaluators, programme providers who would like to know more about evaluation and community members. Community Research and the What Works site are always interested in hearing stories about how specific tools, frameworks or evaluation approaches have worked with a programme or community, so please feel free to email us on communications@communityresearch.org.nz if you believe that others could benefit from learning from your experiences. Also, if there is something, a tool or an approach, that you would like to see on the website please feel free to contact us, as we are continuing to develop and improve our websites to be useful to the people of Aotearoa.