In the first of our workshops for the Stories of Impact short project, we gathered in the Elgin Youth Café in the Highlands of Scotland to kick off our journey towards the creation of tools to support volunteers and volunteer coordinators to capture and show their impact. In this first workshop we were joined by a variety of coordinators and volunteer managers from various organisations from across the Moray region. The aim of this first session together was to get to the core of what the impact of volunteering and volunteer services feels like for our participants, and to understand the current processes and approaches already in place for evaluating and reporting what our participants and their organisations do on a daily basis.
As this was a creative session, and in an attempt to dig deeper into the motivations of our participants to do what they do, we started the session with a playful exercise aimed at allowing participants to really express their feelings about volunteers and volunteer services and why they are so important. We gave the participants bits of modelling clay, Lego, paper, pens and other craft materials and asked them to firstly make something that represented what impact felt like for them, and second to model something that showed us what impact was actually like. We hoped by making the distinction we could get an insight into what, in our participants views, was the most important aspect of volunteers and services.
Participants really took to this task and they quickly began clicking and sticking bits together to show us what the real impact was for them. Once the models were complete we went around the group and each person presented their models and explained what they meant. The insights about impact we gained from this task ranged from: impact is like breaking through barriers and breaking off shackles: it is about step by step change, its about travel and the distance travelled for someone based on where they start their journey; sometimes there barriers to even getting onto the first step and moving beyond that can often be the biggest impact; for volunteers and service user the impact is personal and starts with ‘me’, then the impact ripples out, then it is about the effect on the family, on the community, and further still to society; it is about dignity, respect and happiness; it’s about people helping people, and making valuable connections; impact is about starting on the road to change and that can be for the individual using volunteer services and the volunteers themselves.
After the great morning’s work, we all stopped for a well-earned lunch, before coming back together to start a second task. This task asked participants to again work individually and to map out the current processes and approaches to reporting the impact of their work. Using a prompt sheet to guide them each participant sketch out the people they report to, the information they report and the methods they use to so. Once participants had completed their maps we again went around the room so that everyone had a chance to feedback their map. There were many interesting shared insights from the group, the techniques used for gathering data varied from forms, to informal chats to email and blogs. Overwhelmingly the shared feeling from the group was that evaluation and reporting is all about numbers which misses the really important aspects of what they do. Reporting qualitative impact along the chain has no real formal structure and so experiences will vary depending on the person who is doing the reporting. From recruiting new volunteers through to the experiences of service users there are transition points and tension points, and the opportunity to capture data at these points of passage but it is not currently done effectively. It is at these points where we could be doing more to record stories of change both for volunteers and service users. Finally, it is often the little things that make the big difference, anecdotal evidence of change and impact is hard to catch and illustrate, but is a vital part of the process.
The insights we garnered from this workshop went on to help us shape the next steps in the Stories of Impact project when we met a second time to start thinking about tools and approaches we could develop that could support our participants and their volunteer organisations.