A spotlight on capacity building for evaluation, and why it matters

Jul 24, 2023

Our Evidence and Evaluation Manager, Vera Stiefler Johnson, and our Relationships Manager, Andy Richardson, work closely with our grantees to deliver a wide range of evaluation projects. Below, they explore how building capacity for evaluation amongst delivery organisations in the youth employment sector is good for organisations, and good for young people. 

Since launching our What Works Programme in 2020, Youth Futures Foundation has funded 25 organisations across England. We have invested in approaches that show promise in supporting young people to access good jobs, and are committed to creating robust evidence of “what works” through high-quality evaluations.  

Through our work with delivery organisations, however, we have found that many do not have the necessary resources and infrastructure to conduct high-quality evaluations of their programmes. We support organisations to build their capacity to do so. To us, capacity-building generally simply refers to the development and strengthening of the skills, instincts, processes, and resources needed to improve performance. Organisations are building their capacity all the time for a wide range of purposes, such as delivering a better programme or reaching new people.  

Capacity-building for evaluation includes activities that support the delivery of high-quality evaluations—and it can take many forms. It may involve ensuring that project teams have the appropriate personnel, such as data or impact officers, or that the necessary data collection and processing protocols have been developed and tested. It can even involve providing the right tech for teams to do their work more efficiently. For example, Cumbria Youth Alliance upgraded their management information system and recruited and trained a young person to maintain it. The organisation is now an advocate for the system it uses and the huge benefits it is bringing to the organisation as a whole: 

Our management information system ensures consistent input of data, enabling robust evaluation, leading to better provision for the young people we support, and ensuring better quality of delivery and programmes. From an organisation standpoint it helps us identify gaps in provision, strengthening future funding bids.” – Claire Sands, Youth Promise Lead (Cumbria Youth Alliance) 

But it isn’t just the big budget lines that can make a difference: we also run a Bespoke Small Grants programme. With this funding, the same grantee’s delivery team are looking at purchasing devices that will allow them to input data into their new system in the field, in real-time, rather than collecting data manually and uploading it later, which risks missing and lost data. 

Capacity-building for evaluation is ultimately good for young people. The organisations we fund understand the young people they work with and the barriers they face. They are plugged into local networks and navigate a complex funding and policy context, where competing demands are constantly shifting. Evaluation is one of these competing demands and can sometimes fall by the wayside in the face of more pressing objectives.  

But evaluation can also be a powerful tool in supporting organisations to meet broader strategic objectives in supporting young people. Investing in the capacity to conduct high-quality evaluations means more young people can receive programming that has been rigorously tested and found to be effective in supporting them reach their goals. It can also increase the chances that an organisation may receive funding by showing it understands the impact of its programmes. 

If we can take incremental steps in building capacity – so internal and external evaluation becomes a standard feature of every youth employment programme – we can strengthen what is on offer for young people through continuous learning about what works best. And with this evidence, organisations can design more effective programmes – and demonstrate to stakeholders, with greater confidence, the impact of their work. 

Looking forward, there is much more that can be done. For example, future funding could be earmarked to provide targeted management consultancy to advise grantees on developing a long-term business strategy and a workforce with a performance management skillset that means evaluation is embedded in their day-to-day work. This can allow organisations to have the ability to invest not just in delivery, but in evidencing the impact of their programme on young people and improving that delivery. Youth Futures is committed to supporting organisations to do this—and it starts with building their capacity for evaluation. 

Several helpful resources on building capacity for evaluation are now available on our website. Youth Futures have funded NatCen and Ipsos Mori to learn about our capacity-building work. We have started publishing some of this work here. We have also published two evaluation reports that reflect findings from our development grant projects with CatZero and UpRising 

Youth Futures Foundation is developing new funding programmes. If you’re interested in learning more in the future, sign up for our newsletter.

We held a capacity building webinar featuring three delivery organisations we fund. Watch the full session here.

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