Grant Impact Reporting for Australian LGAs

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What is Impact Reporting?

Impact reporting is the process of measuring and evaluating the long-term changes and benefits that a program or project has on the community it was designed for. It goes beyond simply reporting on activities and outputs, aiming to understand the positive differences made because of the project. In the context of Australian local government areas (LGAs), impact reporting helps councils make data-driven decisions based on the outcomes of their grant programs, evaluate the effectiveness of their spending, and demonstrate how they have improved the community.

The Complexities and Difficulties of Impact Reporting

Local councils play a crucial role in supporting community development through grant funding. However, evaluating the impact of these grants can be challenging without a well-designed evaluation framework.

One of the most comprehensive papers written about the subject is published by the Centre for Social Impact, the University of Western Australia, and Local Government Professionals WA called “Measuring Our Impact: Evaluation framework for measuring the impact of community development work across local government in Western Australia” (PDF).

According to the paper, evaluating community-based projects isn’t so simple and many factors complicate this:

  1. Complexity of social interactions: Community development work is multi-dimensional and complex, making it difficult to isolate and measure specific outcomes.
  2. Interconnected processes and outcomes: The connections between how change happens and the results of those changes are not always clear, linear, or constant over time.
  3. External influences: Numerous external factors, such as societal changes, concurrent programs, economic changes, or social trends, can drive change in the outcome, making it hard to attribute the impact solely to the program.
  4. Resource constraints: Limitations in time, money, skills, and capacity within the team delivering the outcome or among the participants can affect the evaluation process.
  5. Diverse stakeholder interests: Different stakeholders may have varying expectations and priorities, complicating the evaluation process.

There is an increasing need to solve the impact and evaluation puzzle, as evident in the introduction of grants such as the new Evaluation Open Grant Round by the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

“Community development work is multi-dimensional, complex, difficult to isolate the factors and sometimes difficult to measure those specific outcomes,” adds SurePact CEO Dan Prichard.

Contribution vs Attribution in Impact Reporting

Impact reporting is difficult because the outcomes of programs can’t be measured like a science experiment in a laboratory, but deal with those real-life factors, both external and internal to the organisation. One of the key things to understand is the difference between attribution and contribution.

So, how do we define contribution versus attribution in the context of evaluating program impact?

  • Attribution:
    • Doing Project A resulted in a change in Outcome C.
    • If we hadn’t done Project A, then changes in Outcome C wouldn’t have occurred.
  • Contribution:
    • Doing Project B contributed in a change in Outcome D.
    • If we hadn’t done Project B, then changes in Outcome D wouldn’t have been as significant, but would’ve still occurred.

The Benefits of Developing the Impact Evaluation Framework First

Designing the evaluation framework when putting a new grant program together offers many benefits:

  1. Clarity of expectations: By establishing clear evaluation criteria and methodologies upfront, local councils can ensure that grant applicants understand what is expected of them in reporting and demonstrating impact. This clarity helps attract the right-fit applicants who align with and can deliver on what the grant program is set out to impact.
  2. Integrated evaluation process: When the evaluation framework is integrated into the grant program design from the beginning, local councils can collect relevant data and insights throughout the project lifecycle, rather than scrambling to gather information at the end. This approach saves time and resources while providing a more comprehensive understanding of the project’s impact.
  3. Improved decision-making: With a well-designed evaluation framework, local councils can make data-driven decisions about which projects to fund and how to allocate resources. By comparing the impact of different projects using a consistent evaluation methodology, councils can identify the most effective initiatives and invest in them accordingly.
  4. Enhanced accountability: Incorporating evaluation frameworks into grant programs demonstrates a commitment to transparency and accountability. Local councils can use the evaluation results to communicate the impact of their grant funding to stakeholders, including community members, councillors, and funding partners.

Having an impact evaluation framework developed upfront at the start of a grant program’s lifecycle is clearly beneficial and resolves impact assessment complications down the line, but this isn’t always the norm.

“Some grant programs and portfolios are set up so the evaluation, not only the evaluation criteria, but the evaluation methodology is very clear up front, but that’s not common,” remarks Dan. “We see a lot of organisations are tending towards including or leading with technology in their solutions because it makes the acquisition of data much easier and therefore it makes the evaluation easier again.”

For savvy grantmakers using grant management software, their final evaluation framework can be built into their grant application questions and subsequent post-award reporting to close the loop.

How Grant Management Software Supports Impact Evaluation

Leveraging grant management software can significantly streamline and enhance the impact evaluation process for local councils. These software solutions support impact evaluation in several ways.

Building evaluation requirements into the application process

By asking the right questions and incorporating eligibility criteria into their electronic application form, councils can ensure that applicants understand the reporting requirements and data points they need to track from the outset. This alignment sets clear expectations and positions grant recipients to collect the necessary information for impact evaluation throughout the project’s milestone reporting within the software.

Capturing relevant data points in post-award reporting

The post-award reporting and acquittal process within grant management software can be customised to capture the specific data points and metrics required for impact evaluation. Councils can define the fields and reporting schedules that fit their framework to then automate the collection of data from submission straight into a dashboard or structured data. This approach drastically reduces the time spent manually exporting and crunching data on spreadsheets at the project closeout phase, as the relevant information is systematically collected throughout the grant period.

Enabling real-time monitoring and course correction

Grant management software often includes features for real-time monitoring and reporting dashboards. These tools provide councils with a comprehensive view of project progress, allowing them to track key performance indicators and identify areas that may require course correction. By monitoring impact data in real-time, councils can flag risks and help recipients to course-correct their grant-funded projects.

How to Design Grant Programs with Impact Evaluation Frameworks

Define program objectives and outcomes

Clearly articulate the objectives and desired outcomes of the grant program. These should align with the council’s strategic priorities and community needs. By establishing a clear vision for the program, local councils can ensure that the evaluation framework measures progress towards these goals.

Engage stakeholders in program design

Involve key stakeholders, such as community members, local organisations, and subject matter experts, in the design of the grant program and evaluation framework. This collaborative approach ensures that the program reflects the needs and priorities of the community and that the evaluation methodology is feasible and relevant.

Develop a program logic model

Create a program logic model that maps out the inputs, activities, outputs, and expected outcomes of the grant program. This model serves as a roadmap for the evaluation framework, helping to identify key indicators and data collection methods. By aligning the evaluation framework with the program logic model, local councils can ensure that they are measuring what matters most.

Establish clear evaluation criteria and methodologies

Define the specific criteria and methodologies that will be used to evaluate the impact of grant-funded projects. These should be communicated to grant applicants upfront, along with reporting requirements and timelines. By setting clear expectations, local councils can ensure that grantees are well-prepared to collect and report on relevant data.

Leverage technology for data collection and analysis

Incorporate technology solutions into the grant program design to streamline data collection and analysis. This can include online application and reporting systems, data visualisation tools, and impact measurement platforms. By leveraging grant management software, local councils can reduce the administrative burden on grantees while gaining real-time insights into project progress and impact.

Continuously refine the evaluation framework

Treat the evaluation framework as a living document that can be refined over time-based on feedback from grantees, stakeholders, and evaluation results. Regularly review and update the framework to ensure that it remains relevant and effective in measuring the impact of grant funding.

Sharing Your Impact Reporting Internally and Externally

At the closeout of a grant program, with impact evaluation and reporting completed, remember to share the impact report findings with your community, continents, and also internal staff.

Here are a few things we think every council should consider the next time they create an impact report:

  • Try using video: Short and sharp video content, whether animated or simply done by a speaking talking to camera, is a great way to tell the story and engage both your constituents and internal staff. Producing the video specifically for the channel you publish on (ie. long-form for YouTube, short-form for Facebook or Instagram) means those who follow your council’s content online can consume your impact report on the platform where they already spend time, and helps maximise reach.
  • Incorporate infographics: Instead of publishing your impact report on the council website with a text-only article, think about adding clear, concise infographics to illustrate important findings and data points. These can be used to not only improve the website content, but also for social media, used for an email newsletter, and much more.
  • There’s no best-used-by date: Don’t limit the lifespan of your council’s impact and evaluation work to just the week after it’s done. If supported by clear written communication, video explainers, infographics, and other visual storytelling, these assets can be re-purposed and reused, over and over, throughout the year, across all channels, both digital and at in-person events.

Want to see an example of great impact reporting in action? Check out Bush Heritage Australia’s annual report, which incorporates video content, infographics, statistics and fantastic storytelling, all in an easy-to-consume page.

Councils who can systemise their impact reporting process can benefit from the feedback loop of assessing grant impact, sharing that impact back with their community and staff, to then reinforce their impact story for the next grant program.

“A strong grant management engine allows us to craft our story and demonstrate externally our ability to manage our grants. We then can become a preferred choice for future funding, but this also continues to feed our efficiency and effectiveness improvements because we’ve spent the time refining our story.”

Dan Pritchard, CEO of SurePact

Looking for more ideas on how to level up the grant management culture at your council this year? Head to our resources page for more blogs, videos, and downloadables to learn more.

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