Appreciating Impact: Evaluating Small Voluntary Organizations in the United Kingdom


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Abstract

Within the mixed economy of care in the United Kingdom there are debates about the ways in which impact can be evaluated, in order to shape funding and policy decisions. One of the tensions evident in this debate is whether the evaluation approach should reflect the perspectives and goals of the voluntary organizations and their members, or whether evaluation should reflect the wider goals of the whole system of provision. The former runs the risk of being insular and self-congratulatory, while the latter may be inappropriate and dismissive of achievements. This paper explores this tension by reporting on a study that used Appreciative Inquiry to evaluate 10 small-scale not-for-profit schemes for older people. The data indicated some unexpected and long-term impacts that demonstrated the distinctiveness of the sector. Subsequently the findings were mapped on to the “impact grid” developed by Wilding and Lacey (2003). While this was straightforward at the levels of individuals and interorganizationally, it was more difficult at the sector/community level, suggesting that more work needs to be done to bring these two perspectives together.

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