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You may be surprised to find that the first chapter in this part of the book is about presenting your findings. Usually, this topic appears at the end of a text, but we consider that presenting your findings is one of the first things you need to think about when expressing impact and when planning your project or services. There are particular complexities and challenges in working in community settings and it is not possible to simply undertake a project and then write it up with a quick evaluation, as the process is so much more complex and generating evidence needs careful planning from the very start. You will almost certainly also be generating multiple sources of evidence. Increasingly, in times of austerity or rapid change, community work needs to present to decision makers and funders the effectiveness of what is funded and the impact of what is done. This is important to achieve sustainability of services; innovation in response to change; adaptation of services to meet new needs; and changes in service profile. It is also important for professional knowledge of the effectiveness of what we do – for self-evaluation. Finally, we have a responsibility to the communities with which we work, to share with them the impact of community work in order to celebrate successes and learn about what else can and needs to be done. Presentation of findings can be done in many ways, too many to include all of them in this chapter, but we wish to encourage you to use your imagination and to find ways to include your participants in this process.

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Often with work in the community, we know that the impact of the work will be long term rather than short term. Often, however, funding and political concerns require that we show evidence of impact at the end of a short-term funding period. It is often the case that we meet people who say that if it hadn’t been for our intervention, their life would have been a disaster. This is evidence of impact in the long term. If, as is the case for many of the social professions, such as youth work, community work, social work or adult education, we work knowing that people may not fully realise the change that has occurred until later on in their lives, we need to consider longitudinal studies. For those who operate exclusively in the short term, the types of initiative that have a long-term impact are those which work with vulnerable groups of people or that seek attitude and behavioural change, such as growth in self-esteem and agency. We can, of course, gather evidence in the short term, but sometimes the high quality and richness of development over time is worth seeking out. This chapter seeks to explain longitudinal studies to equip you with an understanding of how to implement them yourself as well as commission them from other people, as they can be time and resource-intensive. They are important to the credibility of what we do in the human professions and we aim to show you ways in which they can be used to gather evidence in retrospect as well as during your project.

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How to Gather Evidence

This book provides essential guidance for professionals and pre-qualifying students on how to gather and generate evidence of the impact of projects in the community.

Including case studies from diverse community settings, it provides easy to implement, practical ideas and examples of methods to demonstrate the impact of community work.

Considering not only evaluation, but also the complex processes of evidence gathering, it will help all those involved with work in the community to demonstrate the impact and value of their work. The book provides:

  • guidance for how to present different findings to different audiences;

  • methods for effectively demonstrating the value of your work;

  • how to demonstrate the scale, quality and significance of impact.

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We have sought in this book to introduce approaches and methods practitioners can use to show the impact of what they do. The book has focused on community workers, but the greatest challenge we face as practitioners lies in recognition of the profession in which we work, which concerns us collectively, not individually. Increasingly in times of austerity, it is the developmental work embracing community work that is easy to cut in the short term, as it often has a longitudinal impact rather than meeting goals in political timescales of a short number of years. Working to show the effectiveness of individual projects does contribute to the overall esteem in which the profession is held, but we should also consider how we can foster esteem in other ways. A starting point is to consider the change we wish to make in the way which the profession is valued. We consider that this change lies in convincing people of the values that underpin what we do and the value of the principles that govern the ways that we work. Working towards the wellbeing of the individual and community are at the core of our work and this brings together community workers from all disciplines. This provides a basis for cross-sectoral strength. The principles that underpin our work are also shared and provide a platform for cooperation across professions. The problem, if we accept that there is a problem, is that the approach is not well understood and we ourselves seem to find it difficult to communicate exactly what we do.

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Being able to provide evidence of the value of what you do working in and with communities is clearly important for lots of good reasons that come quickly to mind. It can help secure funding and improve the long-term sustainability and profile of your work, as well as improving your own practice and keeping communities themselves informed of progress. It also can be used to meet the demands of funders, show value for money and improve effectiveness. We hope that this book is useful in these regards; it is intended to be a very practical resource for those who want to reflect on and improve how they provide evidence of what they do. The community is the focus of work for a very wide range of people – from volunteers to paid staff, in public, third and private sectors, from qualified community work professionals through to many others working in social care, health, education, planning, the arts and beyond and we all have an impact on those with whom we work. It is important when thinking about impact to be aware that we want to show impact but the ways in which we do this themselves have an impact on our participants. This book not only concerns the methodology of generating evidence of impact, but also highlights the importance of ethical judgements about the ways in which we do this. Ethics is a theme that runs throughout this book, as the authors consider the judgements that we make about what has worked or what matters, for example, to be value judgements, which lie in the ethical domain.

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Here, we apply the ‘Goldilocks’ question to social care: what size of care provider is ‘just right’? Empirical research to date has struggled to find evidence for an optimal size for public service providers, although policymakers remain keen to suggest that size is a key aspect of organisational performance. The article makes an innovative contribution to this literature, drawing on empirical research with care providers and people who use their services in England. Findings from 143 interviews with people using different-sized care services suggest that micro-organisations (employing five staff or fewer) achieve better outcomes for their cost base than larger organisations, although our study is necessarily exploratory rather than statistically definitive. The salience of size in a social care setting provides a basis for hypothesising that organisational size may be more significant in relation to care than it has been found to be in broader public management literature, though research with larger and more robust samples is needed.

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