At the centre of the Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) programme is evaluation and here the workforce is on the frontline. For it is they who source, collate and complete the two key measures – the Homelessness Outcomes Star and the NDT Assessment – with the service beneficiaries. Frontline workers say something they enjoy about the programme is the move away from a purely target driven approach. To make the most of this we need to make sure that the essential evaluation is not a chore. Not tasks that are completed as an add-on to a day’s work but ones that are integral to the way of working alongside beneficiaries and peer workers.
Thus, we need to know what it is about the projects that captures the imagination and creativity of practitioners. Ask what is it they like about the work alongside beneficiaries which will secure as full an evaluation picture as possible? It is my contention that it is knowingly being part of a virtuous circle – one which takes theory into practice, evaluates that practice and thereby shapes a better informed and improved theory that can go on to influence wider practice, which is so rewarding. Pride – for both frontline worker and service user – is in curiosity satisfied. In the Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) overall programme then, evaluation of just how each individual beneficiary achieves their aspirations should be accumulated, lead to system change and improve the lives of many people, families and communities with multiple and complex needs. Evaluation, and the curiosity that fuels it, are vital to generating that positive feedback loop on which the projects depend for their results.
In my experience curious practitioners have:
- Clarity of programme and project purpose
- Detailed understanding of their job role and responsibilities
- The skills and training required to make good use of the evaluation tools
- Time to collect the data and information needed
- An ability to make evaluation an engaging part of their relationship with beneficiaries
- Involvement in the analysis and assessment of data and information
- Encouragement to bring their wider knowledge and experience to support and/or challenge data and information
- Support to ask difficult questions about the reliability of data and information
- Knowledge and understanding of the common pitfalls in research and evaluation
- Feedback on what the data and information is revealing across projects
Essentially the outcomes of evaluations should help not hinder, be practical for practitioners and challenge in a way that stimulates further curiosity. Evaluations must be inquisitive about the interventions and approaches. The more we know about what works, and why, the better. In this way the best workforce can be recruited, trained, supported and retained. What follows is not just an effective service but one that is sustainable and replicable because it is founded on research. For, as we all know “research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”.
What we need to know from project beneficiaries, frontline workers and their managers is what will assist us all to undertake really effective evaluations? How can we make sure we make the best use of the evaluation tools we have? Do drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on my mobile 07947 680 588.
 Zora Neale Hurston
I have blogged previously about purpose and it’s time to move on to the detail – where the devil lies (alongside salvation) . The question is how do we recruit, train, support and retain an effective workforce? A workforce with the knowledge, skills and experience to change lives and systems alongside people with complex needs including homelessness, offending, substance misuse and mental ill-health. One that supports people to overcome barriers to services and engagement. A workforce that is genuine and honest about the collaborative involvement of individuals with lived experience.
It is a big ask to come up with an exhaustive list of what the workforce does and how it goes about its tasks. Anyone that has spent time drawing up job descriptions knows the lengths you can go to trying to capture everything. Equally, they know the struggles of seeking to be both precise and concise. Perhaps that’s why so many job descriptions are rarely used in guiding day-to-day work and are only got out either when there is a vacancy or a workforce problem. In projects like Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) the issues are compounded because many of the roles are evolving and breaking new territory.
Helen Gavaghan, Senior Engagement Worker at Inspiring Change Manchester (ICM), gives an inkling of some of the things workers do to support people to think about change. She says some ‘traditional’ approaches need challenging and staff freed up to be open about working with both their own and their client’s lived experience. She concludes by suggesting learning about what it is that staff are doing is collected and brought together as a tool-kit for other practitioners.
In the Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) projects, when considering the learning that is being fed back overall, I feel there could be more detailed examination of what the frontline project workers do that makes a difference to people’s lives. I believe that there is some valuable learning that could be collected and shared and, if it isn’t, may be lost. General explanations of the approach, such as “building trusting relationships” and “avoidance of judgement” are fine – but I believe are in no way getting down to the specifics and nuances of the great work that is going on.
Vic Citarella delves further into the significance of ‘purpose’ for service users and the workforce in the Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) projects.
Indications are emerging from evaluations that the ‘purpose’ of each Fulfilling Lives project is very important in generating value and ownership. For beneficiaries, engaging in meaningful activities appears to create a vital sense of purpose. Equally for the workforces involved feedback suggests that the ‘purposeful’ nature of job roles generates added value and personal motivation. In my last workforce blog, I suggested that the value stemmed from four sources:
- Meaningful service user engagement
- Concepts of open-endedness and persistence (turned into practice)
- The ideas around psychologically informed environments (PIE) and the like
- Systems Change
In focussing on workforce matters in this series of blogs I have therefore dug a bit deeper to address questions such as: what is the purpose of purpose? How is purpose agreed, described and refreshed? What is it about the four sources which users and workers value that drives them on to achieve their goals?