I would be lying if I said that working on v’s formative evaluation hadn’t been challenging. But it has also been enlightening, energising and inspiring. In addition to the valuable insight generated, the research has also taught me a thing or two about how to improve our data collection processes. Our narrative is limited by the information at our disposal and despite the vast breadth of data we collected, I know we can do better.
A question I am often asked is: what is v’s return on investment? The figure of £5.80 for every pound is impressive in its own right. However, when you consider that it relates solely to the immediate impacts on the young volunteers, it is clear there is a more powerful story lurking in the shadows. Longitudinal measurement of volunteering impact on individuals and the community benefit derived from their activity are two issues that are testing the brightest minds in volunteering research. In our work moving forward we are closely examining how we can collate the necessary data to quantify those critical impacts.
The biggest story, however, relates to the diverse range of young people engaged. Volunteering is often misperceived to be the pursuit of the bourgeois, but our data clearly shows that, if packaged and supported in the right way, social action opportunities can attract a broad cross section of young people. v funded projects attracted volunteers from low income households (51%), those at risk of exclusion (10%) and offenders/ex-offenders (7%). We have engaged homeless young people, refugees and young people from ethnic minorities that traditionally have not participated in volunteering activity. Crucially, this is not the result of targeted programmes but instead the result of activities that nurtured and encouraged positive social mixing.
At a time when there is a growing danger of pockets of young people becoming a ‘forgotten youth’ it is imperative for investment, from all sectors, to enable the creation of opportunities that engage and inspire them. As our CEO astutely surmises “from the work we do, we know that young people are a huge social and economic asset, with energy, talents and ideas that make them a powerful force for change. Let’s ensure that we use this for society’s benefit.”
Read the full evaluation:
v has always been about pushing boundaries, trying new approaches and injecting creativity wherever and whenever we can. This is particularly true of our approach to evaluation.
We wanted to buck the trend of ‘post-mortem’ evaluation and heed the advice of experts, such as those at New Philanthropy Capital who advocate that “charities need to improve the way they measure, demonstrate and communicate impact”.
In the absence of a central approach to measurement and evaluation, v’s preference was for a model that would enable us to learn from our programmes, whilst they were still active, and make changes to improve the experience of our funded network and the young people they engage.
As an organisation committed to evaluation and learning v has applied insights from previous grants rounds into practical improvements for our most recently funded organisations, but by choosing a formative approach, we have gone one step further, providing the organisation with a rigorous and independent evaluation.
The interim findings of this process were launched this week, Formative Evaluation of v, The National Young Volunteers’ Service.
Overall the evaluation shows that v and its funded network are achieving notable outcomes, for example exceeding the targets set for it for the number of youth volunteering opportunities and supporting a positive force for change in the youth sector (p54). More significantly it identifies that we have engaged some of the hardest to reach young people. “There is strong evidence”, the report concludes, “that v funded volunteering engaged a “greater diversity and more socially excluded young people than is normally the case” (p1).
While there are successes to celebrate, the evaluation also indicates areas for improvement for v, its funded network and government.
v is taking forward the recommendations and has created an action plan to tackle the implications raised by the Evaluation report and we are committed to continuing to raise the bar in the provision of youth volunteering.
There is also learning within the report for our funded network, for the wider sector and for government and we hope they share our zeal for improvement. The detailed impact of v and its network (2008-2011) will be reflected in the final report in June 2011. We have a unique opportunity to take stock of what we have collectively achieved thus far and make every effort to deliver more.
Terry Ryall, v’s Chief Executive, commented “I’m naturally delighted by all the positive findings of what v has and its partners have achieved in just four year. But I’m equally excited about the areas of improvement for v and the voluntary sector, as we take these forward for an even better future for all.”