5 steps for integrating evaluation into services

Integrating evaluation into service delivery increases its success, says Vicki Jackson

Book stack evaluationEvaluation helps us understand whether services for children and families contribute to keeping children safe, aid recovery from abuse and adversity, and improve relationships and wellbeing.

A robust evaluation helps service providers understand the impact of their work and identifies facilitators and barriers to service delivery. It also aids commissioners in deciding which services to commission

However, evaluation can be difficult, especially when you're simultaneously providing help.

Juggling the demands of evaluation

Practitioners and service managers often have to juggle evaluation tasks alongside assessment, intervention and case management responsibilities. 

Competing demands sometimes mean that practitioners focus their attention on direct service delivery, only completing evaluation tasks when they have additional capacity.

This often happens when practitioners are not confident about the evaluation process and its purpose. In these cases, the amount of information gathered for the evaluation is reduced and learning is impaired.

NSPCC evaluation learning

For evaluation to be successful it must be integrated into service delivery rather than being seen as an “add-on”.

Over the past five years, we have been evaluating more than 25 NSPCC services for children and families. The experience has highlighted 5 key steps to help evaluators and service providers integrate evaluation into service delivery.

Every service evaluation presents its own unique challenges, but following these 5 steps may help to embed the evaluation within the service and maximise its chances of success.

If service delivery teams share a sense of evaluation ownership they are more likely to understand its aims and importance. They are invested in making the evaluation a success.

To achieve this, involve team managers and practitioners throughout the design and development of the evaluation, including its theory of change and the development of consent forms and information leaflets.

This creates coherence between the outcomes of the evaluation and outcomes of the service, with both working towards the same goals.

Ongoing conversations between evaluation and service delivery teams allows practitioners to highlight difficulties implementing the evaluation, helping evaluators respond and give feedback on progress and outcomes. Developing an “evaluation advisory group” comprised of team managers, practitioners, evaluators and implementation managers creates a useful forum for these conversations and encourages ongoing collaboration. 

To help practitioners fully participate, evaluation work must be factored into service resource planning with enough time allocated for practitioners to complete tasks, such as discussing the evaluation process with service users.

Where possible, provide evaluation training at the same time as service delivery training: start the evaluation with the start of the service. This brings the two elements together, emphasising that evaluation is embedded within the service.

All service delivery practitioners should be trained in the evaluation. This should be reinforced throughout the programme to ensure the evaluation does not drift with staff turn-over.

And to help service users understand that evaluation is part of the service, practitioners should introduce it during initial service discussions. If possible, merge evaluation consent into service consent forms, making it clear (where applicable) that access to the service is not dependent upon evaluation participation. As well as reducing paperwork, this reminds practitioners about the need for evaluation consent. It also stops the evaluation being sprung upon service users at a later date. This may improve consent rates.

Using evaluation measures (e.g. questionnaires) with practical benefits for assessment and/or intervention often has higher completion rates than those used solely for evaluation purposes. Practitioners have an incentive to complete them as they offer benefits to practice and evaluation.

When planning evaluation, explore measures that can be scored and interpreted to help practitioners gather information and identify the need and progress of service users. 

You can recognise service delivery teams and practitioners who perform evaluation well by creating evaluation champions. This rewards and recognises practitioners’ hard work and helps other practitioners achieve evaluation success.

Evaluation champions could co-deliver evaluation training to new staff and refresher training to existing staff. This increases the credibility of the evaluation, answers practice-based questions and provides examples of gaining evaluation consent and completing standardised measures.

Evaluation champions could sit on an evaluation advisory group to relay messages between practitioners and evaluators, acting as evaluation spokespeople within service delivery teams.

A level of accountability amongst service delivery teams is needed to encourage compliance and evaluation success.

Evaluation should be on the agenda for all discussions regarding programme performance and included as a key service performance indicator.

If teams are struggling, take steps to understand why this is happening and offer help and solutions. If low performance is related to non-compliance or resistance to the evaluation, communication is crucial to understand and resolve issues. 

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