Putting our money where the evidence is – an evidence based approach to grant making
Last week I was with Volition – a new social business, rolling out a volunteering programme in Cathedrals to get people back into work. Here at Nesta we are proud to have backed Volition with a grant of £335,000 from the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund because we know that more than 50% of the hundreds of job seekers who have been through their 10 week volunteering programme in Manchester Cathedral found work afterwards.
On the surface 50% might not seem like a lot, but we are not talking about people who have been out of work for a few weeks or a few months. The job seekers referred to Volition by local Job Centres have been out of work for at least a year and most for much more than that. As I spoke to some of the volunteers in Volition’s latest site – Liverpool Cathedral – today, I heard stories of being out of work for 3, 5, in one case 19 years. Stats for this group (usually on the Government’s work programme) returning to work normally sit at around 19% so we can be confident Volition is working.
Volition is not alone in being well evidenced. In fact we have decided to award funds to the 39 grantees in our portfolio only if they can meet certain standards of evidence. They all need a validated Theory of Change, a logic model that shows why what they are doing will have an impact. We call this Level 1 on the Nesta Standards of Evidence.
And those receiving the most money need more robust evidence of impact – not just surveys saying people like it, but data backing up the claims they make of impact. It’s an approach that’s been inspired by our partnership with TSIP – the champions of Standards of Evidence – who we have been working with since we launched the Fund.
All of our grantees are receiving support from TSIP to create evaluation plans and find good evaluators, as well as finances to improve their evidence too. With this Code Club and UK Active are undertaking randomised control trials, Action Tutoring are comparing their results against a matched control group and British Lung Foundation are comparing against a comparison group from other regions. If the data is credible then each of these organisations will be validated at Level 3 on our Standards of Evidence indicating that they can show causality between specifically what they do an improved outcomes in user’s lives. And we’re supporting Volition too, to test their promising signs of early impact and go further to demonstrate causality.
The strengthening up of the evidence base like this isn’t just for our benefit as a funder, though it’s nice to get data that the work we are backing is making a difference. We think that if any our grantees are going to scale their people helping people initiatives then they’ll need credible, robust evidence of impact to convince commissioners, buyers, investors and users. The market is becoming more savvy and the social enterprise field more competitive. One way to stay ahead in the future will be to have confidence in your data.