101 | Data, evidence and evaluation – essential ingredients for creating an effective impact narrative
By using data, evidence, and evaluation in a transparent and inclusive manner, organisations can create impact narratives that are both authentic and effective in communicating the value of their work to a variety of audiences.
01 March 2023
If you are a community organisation, not-for-profit, charity or even a local government trying to create impact in and for your community, you will know how important it is to craft a compelling and inspiring impact narrative. But an impact narrative is not just a tale of your success. An impact narrative is a story built on a foundation of data and evidence, an evaluative chronicle of the change that you have created in the world, backed by the numbers and testimonials to prove it.
Data, evidence, and evaluation are essential ingredients for creating an effective and authentic impact narrative. These three elements work together to communicate the true impact of your work to your community, stakeholders, funding bodies and volunteers who have invested financially, emotionally, intellectually and physically in your work.
Diving into the data
Data is the foundation of any impact narrative. It provides a factual basis for the story you are telling and allows you to back-up (or evidence) your claims. This is particularly important when communicating with stakeholders and grant makers, who may be sceptical of the impact that your work is having. By providing data that demonstrates the impact of your work, you can build trust and credibility with these audiences. It is important that the data is collected and analysed in a rigorous and unbiased manner, to ensure that it is accurate and reliable.
There are two main types of data: quantitative and qualitative.
- Quantitative data are numerical values that can be collected, quantified and analysed using statistical methods, such as surveys, questionnaires, and online polls. This type of data is often used to measure the prevalence of attitudes, behaviours, and opinions.
- On the other hand, qualitative data is non-numerical, and can often be collected via written or spoken methods, such as interviews, focus groups, or open-ended surveys. This type of data is often used to understand the reasons behind attitudes, behaviours, and opinions.
For a fun, metaphorical deep dive into the language around methods, methodologies, data, evidence and evaluation in our recent Insight Article, Project Design Demystified.
As it relates to outcomes-based grant funding, data collection is critical, as it allows grant seekers to demonstrate the impact of their programs. Outcomes and impacts can be measured using both quantitative and qualitative data, depending on the nature of the program.
For example, if a program aims to increase the number of volunteers in a community, then quantitative data, such as the number of volunteers, would be appropriate. On the other hand, if a program aims to understand the reasons why people volunteer (or don’t), then qualitative data, such as open-ended survey responses, might be more appropriate. Quite often the two will go hand-in-hand as understanding the rationale for change is often vital to support implementing programs that might enable that change. Using the example above, if we know why people do (or don’t) volunteer, we can use that knowledge to create projects and initiatives which amplify positive benefits or overcome barriers and resistance.
Evidence – using your data to prove your case
Evidence is the next step in building an effective impact narrative. Evidence is how you pull together and present the data that is used to support the claims you are making about the change you have created. It is important that evidence is presented in a clear and transparent manner, so that it can be easily understood and replicated by others.
Often, data and evidence are confused, and the terms used interchangeably. However, they are not quite the same thing, and it's important to understand the difference between the two.
As noted above, data refers to raw information collected through observation, measurement, or experiment. Evidence is created by analysing, interpreting, and drawing conclusions from data. It supports a claim or belief, or, in the case of outcomes-based grant making, proves impact. Evidence can be strong or weak, and the strength of evidence depends on the quality of the data and the methods used to collect and analyse it. For evidence to be considered reliable, it should be based on high-quality data and be subject to rigorous evaluation and critique.
For example, if you are trying to demonstrate that your project has improved the health of a community (your outcome), it follows that you would need to present evidence that shows that the health of the community has improved as a result of your project. You might develop your evidence based on several data sources, such as testimonials from community members, case studies, or even photographs or videos that show the impact of your work.
You might also be able to collect data and statistics on health trends emerging through your initiative. For example, if your project outcome is heart health, you might track stats on reduced obesity rates in your project participants. It is, of course, always important to ensure that the data you collect reflects peer reviewed research, making it a valid source of data to track and compare. In the case cited above, there are significant sources of research validating the link between weight management and heart health that can be included to this end.
Evaluation – showing your progress against your outcomes
Pulling your data and your evidence together and comparing them against your stated outcomes is your evaluation. Evaluation is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating an effective and authentic impact narrative.
Evaluation is the process of systematically examining the design, implementation, and impact of a project or program. It is an important tool for both organisations and grant makers, as it provides them with information about what works and what doesn't. Over time this leads to informed decision making, and improvements of initiatives and funding programs.
Evaluation allows you to assess the effectiveness of your project, and it provides a way to measure progress and communicate the impact that your work is having. By evaluating your work, you can identify areas where you are making a real impact and areas where there’s room to improve. Ideally, evaluation should be ongoing, so that adjustments can be made to the initiative as needed.
When it comes to community projects and outcomes-based grant making, evaluation is especially critical. By measuring the impact of initiatives, organisations and grant makers can determine if they are meeting their goals and making a positive difference in the community. Additionally, by sharing evaluation findings with stakeholders, they can increase transparency and accountability, building trust and strengthening relationships with the people they serve.
Creating your impact narrative
When data, evidence and evaluation are used together, they create a powerful story that can be used to communicate the impact of your work to stakeholders, donors, and other key audiences. It is important to remember that data and evidence without evaluation may not be enough to show the true impact of your work, and evaluation without data and evidence will not be sufficient.
Organisations should also be transparent about any limitations or challenges in the data or evaluation process, such as response bias or potential confounding variables. This can help to build trust and credibility with your audience and demonstrate a commitment to accuracy and authenticity. Effective impact narratives are responsive to the feedback and concerns of the stakeholders and communities being affected by the program.
The final ingredient in creating a narrative that is authentic and effective is to ensure that the data, evidence, and evaluation is communicated in a way that is easy for the audience to access and understand. The creative use of visual aids, infographics and storytelling techniques can help to make the data more engaging. It is critical to ensure that the narrative is accessible, inclusive, and representative of the diverse perspectives and experiences of the people your organisation or program is aiming to impact.
By using data, evidence, and evaluation in a transparent and inclusive manner, organisations can create impact narratives that are both authentic and effective in communicating the value of their work to a variety of audiences. Remember, your impact narrative is the true story of your organisation and the change it makes in the world, so make it engaging, make it honest, and make it count!
Author: Melanie Bainbridge
Melanie Bainbridge is a writer, sustainability professional, multi-arts professional and social impact advocate. Mel melds 20+ years of strategy, policy, project management and community engagement experience with communications and creative development skills to create inspiring impact narratives. Melanie is currently Senior Manager Knowledge & Insights, Lotterywest.
Acknowledgement of Country
The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.