Demonstrate your impact! The realities of evaluating social outcomes under outcome-focused funding frameworks

Monday, 1 July 2019
Dr Zoe Staines

Research and evaluation of social programmes is crucial for developing an evidence base to inform policymaking and achieve social impact. However, the connection between inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts is typically far from linear. Thus, social programmes are often incredibly challenging to evaluate, particularly in small remote communities. Nevertheless, outcomes-focused funding frameworks operate on the basis of an assumed simplistic linearity, which rarely plays out in practice. This paper explores the challenges involved in meeting the needs of outcome-focused funding frameworks when undertaking programme evaluation in remote Indigenous communities. It argues that, even where we employ complex and sophisticated research designs, it is rarely possible to achieve the kind of standardised evaluation output that is expected in outcomes-focused funding frameworks. This can lead to the unnecessary abandoning of programmes on the basis of their inability to demonstrate their impact to funders, regardless of whether or not they are considered to have been successful in the local community context.