Are you applying for multi-year funding in 2019? Then you need to get your evidence base sorted! And it’s not too late to start.

Here are five things you can do to strengthen your work, consolidate impact and put your best foot forward in upcoming funding rounds. 

1.     STRUCTURE: Ensure your evaluation framework is up to date

If you don’t already have an evaluation framework in place for the organisation, now is the time to map your program logic or theory of change, and identify some questions relating to your efficiency, effectiveness and ultimate impact. Depending on your size, you might think about this at the project, program or organisation level – or a combination.

There are a bunch of free guides and tools for this out there, but we think the one in the Program planning and evaluation guide from the Australian Institute of Family Studies has just the right amount of detail. 

 If you’ve already developed this (or there’s something similar buried in your share drive somewhere), dust it off at your next team meeting and do a quick discussion on what aspects might need to be refreshed. Appoint someone to lead the work of getting it up to date, approved and communicated to your board and staff. 

2.     GATHER: Analyse your reach and impact  

Impact evaluations are fast becoming an essential management tool for arts and culture organisations. They assist teams to understand the extent to which they are having an impact in the world, what is working well, and what isn’t, and exactly what factors are delivering the best outcomes. They can also help teams to work out the gaps and opportunities in their current programs and clarify the best future direction.

For instance, the Australia Council’s funding guidelines assessment criteria talk about identifying impact and need, which can be demonstrated through evaluation.

You can evaluate your impact through qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods research, depending on what is most appropriate to address the priority questions in your evaluation framework.

Some basic qualitative questions to ask are: 

What was the best part about Program X?

What could we improve?

What have you taken away from your experience with Program X?

Some quantitative questions to ask are:

On a scale from 1 to 5, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with Program X?

On a scale from 1 to 5, how likely are you to recommend X to a friend or colleague?

You can also ask this last one on a scale from 0 to 10, and use the results to calculate a Net Promoter Score which can be benchmarked with other programs and events.

3.     TEST: Gather evidence about what is needed in future

As a part of the strategic planning process, it can be helpful to gather hard data on what your community, participants and/or stakeholders want to see in future. This could include running a consultation process using interviews or focus groups, or running a survey of your stakeholders.

You can also prompt people with a list of potential new initiatives or priorities, and ask people to select their top three. Doing a temperature check like this can be enormously useful in helping you prioritise limited resources – and it gives you an evidence base to fall back on if people challenge your investments.

For example, Creative Plus Business conducted a survey to find out what people wanted from a creative business conference. Collecting data from their community gave them confidence that their plans were on track and is helping ensure the likelihood of a successful event.

As our colleague Bridget Jones at Wavelength said in a recent post, ‘One of the great things about planning is that it helps managers make the tough decisions about what to do - and what not to do - so they can be more successful.’ She also refers to some useful planning templates from Bridgespan to help you keep it real.

Your questions should partly be open ended, e.g.: ‘What would you like to see from us moving forward?’ or ‘What ideas can you share for our program in the next three years?’

4.     SCAN: Analyse the case for investment

Before you lock down your strategic priorities, it’s important to conduct a scan of the wider environment. Analysing big picture statistical trends is an important step in prioritising initiatives and working out the case for investment.

You can do this by examining reliable sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, thought leaders like Nesta (check out their predictions for 2019), data aggregators like Google Trends and academic research news articles like The Conversation.

Patternmakers also offer a series of short talks, designed for staff meetings, board meetings and strategic planning days (contact info@thepatternmakers.com.au for more information).

Your goal here is to look for alignment (or otherwise) between your plans, and where the world is heading in the next 1-5 years. For instance, topics like mental health are rising in importance, whereas some retail industries are under threat.

According to the Australia Council’s Strategic Plan Framework, you can consider producing a strategic/context analysis which summarises the strategic issues you expect your organisation to face over the next 3 years. This is often based on an assessment of your internal and external environments to identify the organisations strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. It is a distillation of analysis and research undertaken by your organisation to underpin the artistic choices you have made and the goals you have set.

5.     PLAN: Work out how you’ll monitor and evaluate your progress

It’s good practice to set up your evaluation framework and methodology before you start a new funding period, new project or initiative. It doesn’t have to be super detailed, and things will undoubtedly change, but showing the assessment committee that you’ve thought about this in advance is just smart.

The key questions are basically what, when, how, why and who will be monitoring and evaluating your progress. How is the big one here, and specifically, how it will be resourced.

As a rule of thumb, I usually advise leaders in arts and culture organisations to set aside 3-5% of their resources for any given period or program for monitoring and evaluation. This doesn’t mean spending 5% on hiring a consultant, most of the work should be done internally, on things like the steps above. It’s also important to be growing your team’s skills – through things like training in research and evaluation.

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So there you have it: Structure, Gather, Test, Scan & Plan. The geek’s guide to getting ready for your strongest application yet.

If this all sounds overwhelming, and you think there’s a case to invest in the help of a professional, you can get in touch to schedule your free consultation by emailing info@thepatternmakers.com.au. We can provide resources and templates to help you, recommend training that would suit your team, and scope out where you need professional support.