The charity received lottery funding in 2012, for a five-year project. Over the five years, the team collected data to provide funders with quantitative outcomes and uptake. Towards the end of the project’s lifespan, the team started to look towards securing continuity funding, talking to CCGs and Directors of Public Health in their region. It was at this point that it became clear there needed to be a fundamental change in how the organisation looked at data and evaluation, with proof of impact being essential for potential commissioners looking for evidence-based approaches.
“We knew we were doing good work and making a tangible difference, but we just didn’t have that on paper”, David told us. “We were established by one family to support other families and that always took precedence. It was a culture change certainly to realise that we had to fundamentally change our evaluation processes to make sure that we were meeting funders’ and commissioners’ needs too.”
In 2018, the team put together a tender that outlined what they needed to achieve from an external evaluation. They shared the tender with already known and trusted public health consultants and researchers and it was awarded to Dr Scott.
The research had two phases. Firstly, a postal survey was developed and sent to 400 people who had used the If U Care Share support service. Respondents were invited to take part in one-to-one interviews with Dr Scott if they wished to give further information. The response to this exceeded capacity so a focus group was also convened for further in-depth conversations aimed at pulling out qualitative themes around wider outcomes as part of phase two.
“It was important to have a flexible approach”, David explained. “We hadn’t gone out to our clients like this before so we weren’t sure what to expect back. We were surprised how many people wanted to do an interview. For example, it really acknowledged people’s willingness to share their experiences.”
David did attend the focus group to help to facilitate. He was clear with participants that the process was confidential and that they could be as open and frank as they needed to be. He was also able to respond quickly wherever there were issues raised by participants. In fact, those attending the focus group appreciated that someone from the organisation was there to listen and respond in that way.
Dr Scott’s experience as a commissioner was invaluable to the preparation of the evaluation report. The team were able to ask what data and evidence she would expect to see as well as have her guidance on formats that were most useful and would measure the right outcomes. It was important too to balance the needs of a range of funders whose expectations ranged from evidence of need to return on investment. The end result was a report including recommendations, as well as a PowerPoint of the key data and outcomes.
The evaluation report has become an essential tool for If U Care Share that has proved its worth many times over. It is used in induction training to demonstrate how and why the service is so vital to families. It has demonstrated wider support that the team have known about anecdotally. For example, 55% of respondents received practical support from the organisation. Previously we had only been able to say we offered practical and emotional support with no evidence to indicate what level of support was required and why purely emotional support only meets some of the needs of those bereaved by suicide. Also, 69% of respondents accessed support within three months of their loss, evidencing the need for the early alert and support offer.
And of course, it is used to respond to and to win important tenders that keep the service sustainable and effective.
The team is planning the next stage of evaluation, which will use the framework and limits of the original but will be carried out in-house, led by David. It will include questions on the organisation’s support services during the pandemic when many services went online.
“Ultimately, we want evaluation to be a dynamic, ongoing process building in an element of automation”, says David of future plans. “We need to think about how to make that happen operationally – whose job would it be and how much of their time would it involve to monitor and evaluate our work?”
It is clear that If U Care Share, like many other smaller organisations, now see evaluation as an essential part of service delivery that will continue to drive how they operate.