The Road Ahead

Our analysis of the major opportunities and challenges facing the voluntary sector in 2024. Learn more

Using and learning from evaluation findings

This page is free to all

Use this page to understand how to use and learn from your evaluation findings. You’ll need to think about good analysis and reporting as well.

Used effectively, your evaluation findings can:

  • shape the work you do in the future
  • focus attention on how to achieve your intended outcomes and impact
  • bring you closer to realising the change your organisation wants to see
  • help others doing similar work learn about what works best.

Share your learning with others

Sharing your learning is an important part of the process – for transparency, accountability and so you can plan with others about how to improve.

  • Check your learning with others – Look for opportunities to sense-check your evaluation findings with those you work with. They might also have different ideas about what actions should be taken as a result of the findings.
  • Think about your audiences – Not everyone involved with your organisation necessarily needs to know all your evaluation findings. What is useful to your trustees might not be what your volunteers want to hear about.
  • Use different communication methods – Consider a lunchtime session for staff, a blog or short video for your supporters, or a paper summary for trustees.
  • Include actions and recommendations – What do you want people to do with the information? This will change what you share, how you share it, and how people will respond. If you want people to engage with the findings – and take action – a more active workshop could be effective.

Celebrate the positives

Where your findings show good news, celebrate! Recognise the achievements of staff, volunteers and other involved parties. Showcase the success stories of your organisation, and emphasise the way your work is making a difference.

It could be a group email, social media post, a team pizza, or a pay reward. Celebrate in whatever way makes sense to you, your team and organisation. Your funders will also want to hear your good news too!

Recognising and celebrating the positive findings isn’t just about making people feel good. Motivating your staff – and your volunteers – will make them more effective, more engaged in the work, and less likely to leave your organisation.

Read more about motivation and engagement in our recruiting and managing staff section.

Sharing achievements with those you seek to serve can motivate them too, and can contribute to further improved outcomes.

Make improvements to your work

Where your evaluation highlights areas of improvement, embrace them. Doing what you've always done, or sticking with what is safe, isn't going to make you the best organisation you can be – and it may not be what's most effective for those you seek to serve.

Approach these discussions openly and with care. Improvement is about learning, not blame.

Evaluation findings could be used to:

  • Improve your existing services. This is to increase the chances that change will occur. You might need to update the information you provide, change the content of your training or support provision, or revise your campaigning communications to supporters or policymakers.
  • Make sure you’re reaching those you seek to serve. Consider whether the people or organisations you’ve worked with are those you had anticipated or those who would benefit most from your work. If not, do you need to change anything about how you publicise your work, your eligible target group, or the way in which you deliver your activities to make them more accessible?
  • Improve work with individual service users. Outcomes data can be useful for casework as well as looking at the effectiveness of whole services. If a service user isn't achieving their desired outcomes, what could you both do differently?
  • Review your internal processes. This is so you work effectively and in a way most likely to achieve outcomes. For example, you might look at your methods for training or supporting staff and volunteers, your relationships with partners or referring organisations, or at your project’s decision-making processes.

When planning improvements to your work, make sure you consider how to make them manageable. Consider these questions:

  • When should you time your changes?
  • Who'll need to approve and implement them?
  • What resources are needed?

You should also learn about and improve your own evaluation approach. Work on improving your processes so you're collecting useful data that will help you make future decisions and plan your work effectively.

Use the findings in your planning processes

Evidence that is recent and accurate is essential to making informed decisions about the future. Use your evaluation findings to inform your organisation’s planning.

If you have a programme or organisational theory of change, this is a good moment to revisit it. Do your evaluation findings support the theory? Have your outputs led to the outcomes you had intended? Did your assumptions hold true?

You may need to change the way you work. You might need to develop new ways of working to bring about your intended outcomes, or maybe they were unrealistic or not correct. If your theory turns out not to be accurate, understand why and consider changing it.

Use your evaluation findings for organisational planning to help you.

  • Prioritise activities most likely to lead to changes for the people and groups you work with and allocate – or fundraise for – resources around these.
  • Identify activities which aren’t leading to desired outcomes so you can stop or change them.
  • Understand what level of intervention is needed to achieve the best outcomes for the largest number of people. Some organisations find that they can reduce their level of intervention and still achieve their desired outcomes. This allows them to work with more people or organisations.
  • Identify any unmet needs in your target communities or potential new groups. This might signal that you need to develop new services, programmes or campaigns, or that you need to try and encourage the development of more services by other organisations.
  • Assess context to identify if there are things about the environment you work in that are affecting the outcomes you achieve. For example, if a lack of available rented property is affecting your ability to rehouse clients, you might need to campaign about this locally.
  • Consider scaling up where you can plan which elements of an initiative should be scaled up (if you're looking to grow) or could be replicated in other areas or by other organisations.
  • Review staff skills and your organisation’s recruitment needs.
  • Develop your organisational strategy and set appropriate priorities – read more in our strategy and business planning section.

Establish a learning culture

Building evaluation findings into your existing organisational processes, such as through project reviews and appraisals can help establish a learning culture.

Make learning a key part of regular supervisions, collaborate with individuals from across different teams to help solve problems, or begin your organisational planning processes with an honest review.

A learning culture starts with a shared set of values. From the very top, your organisation should commit to positively engaging with evaluation and encouraging individuals to reflect and change based on evidence.

Last reviewed: 18 September 2023

Help us improve this content

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 September 2023

Back to top

Sign up for emails

Get regular updates on NCVO's help, support and services