Learning What Works in Changing Times

by Janet Miller, Community Research

So much change has occurred for those of us working in the Community Sector this year.

Though many of us are well acquainted with the term ‘pivot’ we couldn’t have foreseen just how often it would be heard in NGO board meetings in 2020 to describe the many adjustments to our ways of working.

We have seen rapidly changing levels of need in communities, and Government funding has flowed to the sector in ways that we would never have predicted pre Covid-19. As a sector committed to responding to need, we are accustomed to adapting to the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but the current rate of change is unprecedented.

What Works in a Rapidly Changing World

In this rapidly changing world, how can we be sure that our work is having the effect we intend it to? Are we able to reflect and learn about what works and what doesn’t work in our mahi?

In order to support community organisations with these types of questions, Community Research developed the ‘What Works’ website – www.whatworks.org.nz

First launched in 2015, ‘What Works’ offers an easy and community-centric entry into the world of evaluation. It draws together tools and resources from websites 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.

The website contains introductory information for those who have never embarked upon an evaluation, providing the basics on why, where and how evaluation is conducted. It also provides resources on specific types of evaluation approaches for people who want to know what options there are.

Evaluating Programmes

Evaluation work can be conducted at any stage of a program’s development, and as your programme changes, so may your approach to evaluation. The What Works website has pages and tools to support you to understand what approach to evaluation is best for your programme.

The learning that takes place as a result of evaluation work is so valuable, particularly in a constantly changing world. While evaluations are a useful way to show funders how effective  programs are, the real benefits are realised as programme providers gain new insight into what works and what doesn’t work for the program participants and can use this information this to improve their work.

In this time of rapid change, pausing for learning and reflection is a big ask. The benefits of taking time to reflect and evaluate make this investment in time worthwhile. Check out www.whatworks.org.nz for resources to help you get started.