Volunteer support for monitoring and evaluation described as ‘miraculous’
Expert consultant appeals for more skilled volunteers to help the voluntary sector meet the challenge of evaluation
Andy Bagley is a management consultant who, for the past 20 years, has specialised in performance management and evaluation. As a Reach volunteer, he is currently demonstrating the value and relevance that skills like his can have in the voluntary sector. Andy is collaborating on the monitoring and evaluation of an ambitious scheme to improve the quality of senior management in charities. And he’d like to see more volunteers with his sort of background step forward to take up similar influential roles.
‘Management consultants may get a bad press, but I know that they can add real value’, declares Andy Bagley. ‘However, not everything is about money. And when I decided I wanted to give something back to the community I thought the best way to do that was by offering my skills to the charity sector.’
Andy put that offer into practice by becoming a Reach volunteer. And it was through Reach that he was introduced to Charityworks: a consortium of national and local charities of varying sizes which runs a unique, high-powered management training programme for first level managers. The aim of the scheme is to develop potential high-flyers who are already working in charities and also to attract high calibre newcomers into the sector through a graduate internship programme.
‘After our first year-long programme was completed, we felt that we had developed an innovative and highly effective new model for management training in the sector,’ says Helen Baker, spokesperson for Charityworks. ‘We thought it was an approach that could be adopted more widely to benefit charities all around the country. But we knew we needed to complete a thorough evaluation of our work, both to capture our learning and to demonstrate to others the value of what we had achieved.’
Helen admits that she and her colleagues were so immersed in the business of developing and delivering the Charityworks programme that it was no easy matter to step back and assess their achievements in a strategic way. That is why they were delighted when Reach introduced them to Andy Bagley, who agreed to work with them to monitor and evaluate the project.
‘It was miraculous to have someone from the outside to come in to help us think critically and ask the right questions’, Helen recalls. ‘Andy is pragmatic and calm and was able to help us focus rapidly on the key measures we needed to put in place. He took us back to basic principles, talked through the metrics and helped develop models of how we could measure key things like inputs, outputs and outcomes.
‘Overall, Andy is helping us think critically about our work in a focussed way. His contribution is proving invaluable.’
Having met with Charityworks to set the basis for the evaluation, Andy has continued to support the process remotely and will be reviewing progress at future meetings.
‘I have tried to help the organisation ask fundamental questions about why they are doing what they are doing and who benefits. They are now evaluating those benefits from a number of different angles by collecting data around agreed measures.’ explains Andy. ‘For example, they are measuring what savings their scheme has made in terms of recruitment costs, assessing what benefits participants have gained from the training and examining wider issues such as the impact the work is having on the reputations of the organisations involved’.
At a time when the government is talking about payment by results in terms of the Big Society, Helen Baker recognises that effective evaluation will play an increasingly crucial role.
‘A more mature and sophisticated accountability is what will be required,’ she says. ‘Charityworks is fortunate in having an expert volunteer like Andy Bagley to help us achieve this. Financing is very tight for us and we just would not have had the capacity to go to the market for the sort of consultancy support he is providing.’
In Andy’s view, many voluntary organisations have some way to go in catching up with the private and public sectors over monitoring and evaluation. He feels that third sector organisations need to implement a major shift in emphasis, away from measuring activity and work output, towards focussing on outcomes - the results of that activity and what it has achieved.
Meanwhile, Andy is appealing for more individuals with professional expertise in evaluation outside the voluntary sector to consider volunteering to work with charities and community organisations. He says there is a lot to be gained from the experience.
‘Working in the voluntary sector is fascinating and offers an opportunity to people like myself to broaden our professional experience', says Andy. ‘Volunteers are likely to find that their contribution will be warmly recognised and appreciated. But in the longer term, we can make a difference to the people who are served by the charities we help. And that is perhaps the biggest reward of all.’