Impact Measurement Training: the Theory and Practice of Change in International Voluntary Service

Background – Research and IVS

The use of research and data in the field of International Voluntary Service (IVS) is relatively new, and organisations have been often initially attracted to it in order to create indicators of success that would simply confirm the value of the volunteer programs, and justify bigger public grants and wider youth participation in a growingly competitive environment for grassroots movements. The emphasis on the valorisation of outcomes has often led to an oversight of the two other essential steps in the impact assessment process, which precede the celebration of results: an increased understanding of the intended program mechanisms that create such outcomes; and a strengthened capacity of improving field practices for the benefit of volunteers and local communities.

The growing relevance of research is now being considerably recognised by the IVS movement, especially at a moment when the quantity and quality of projects targeting the promotion of human rights and social inclusion have been steadily increasing. This calls for a particular attention to the appropriateness and adaptation of the IVS programs to the goals and needs of different publics and partners, and requires the consolidation by the organisations themselves of specific skills to measure, assess and disseminate the concrete results and overall impact generated by these actions.

The training – Blending academic and experiential learning: a practical Theory of Change

It is in this context that Egyesek Youth Association hosted in Hollókö, Hungary the Participatory Research on Impact Measurement and Evaluation Training Course, which took place between the 2nd and the 7th of June. Participants from HUJ Armenia, SCI International, CVS Bulgaria, Egyesek Hungary, GHD Turkey, IBO Austria, IBO Italia, IBO Nederland, INEX-SDA Czech Republic, Allianssi Finland, SCI Catalunya had the opportunity to challenge and change their mindset, learning to look at their own programs as tools for non formal and popular education, where learning is intended, organised and can produce transformational change for the individuals, communities and organisations involved.

The main goal of the training, which was supported and co-financed by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe and by the Erasmus Plus Programme of the European Union, was to provide capacity to youth workers in order to assess the impact of their social inclusion projects, empowering staff members and organisations to improve the quality of their initiatives and to better present their results to media, funders and to the public.

The training was designed and conducted by Francesco Volpini, former CCIVS Director and Graduate Research Associate at the EU Center of the University of Illinois; Jelena Ristic, Volunteer Programme Coordinator at Young Researchers of Serbia and Non Formal Education expert; and Ha Kyung Kang, Monitoring and Evaluation Youth UNV and graduate from the Institute of Development Studies, UK.

Utilising a participatory approach, the training addressed in particular five specific objectives:

  1. To explore the intercultural dimensions of IVS projects and of field research, as well as the notion of social inclusion as the main focus of the Raising Peace Campaign;
  2. To introduce concepts of strategic planning and the program/project’s cycle, goals, objectives and theory of change;
  3. To introduce research methods and tools to design, implement and utilize results of a simple impact assessment research at the field level, for one or more projects within their organization, with different target groups: volunteers, communities, organisations
  4. To provide opportunity for experiential learning at the field level and to choose and adapt methods and tools among those introduced during the training;
  5. To transmit the goals, principles and values in the framework of the Raising Peace and/or other CCIVS global campaigns and the importance of impact research

After a mix of theoretical inputs and reflections aimed at connecting relevant academic knowledge with the participants’ own personal and professional experience, the second part of the training was dedicated to individual and small groups work. Participants adapted the existing tools for volunteers, community and organisational research to the specific goals of the CCIVS campaigns and programs they are directly involved in, and in accordance with CCIVS Social Inclusion Strategy. In accordance to experiential learning best practices, they also designed targeted research goals and questions and implemented field interviews with several actors engaged with the programs of Egyesek at six different locations in the region; they performed a preliminary, participative analysis of the impact that volunteer programs have had in the community; and presented the results of the one-day field research to the other participants in a creative way.

The next step: participatory field research

By the end of the Participatory Research on Impact Measurement and Evaluation Training Course, the results of a pre-post test survey filled by the participants revealed that their self-assessment on each of the five objectives of the event had grown very strongly: they reported feeling much more able to understand the research on IVS impact as integrated in, and highly dependent on, strategic planning and the program/project’s cycle, goals, objectives and theory of change. They felt significantly more ready to design and implement simple impact assessment research at the field level for their own projects, and to utilise and adapt the methods and tools introduced during the training. Finally, they indicated being more aware of the importance of impact research in order to better understand, improve and valorise existing IVS practices, in particular on social inclusion; and felt better equipped to influence future programs and recommend evidence-based policy changes.

In order to answer the specific goals and questions of the national IVS programs they implement in connection with the global Raising Peace campaign, participants also developed and adapted during the training their own research framework, drafting concrete plans and selecting tools and methods for their enquiries. Feeling ready and committed to conduct field research during the summer of 2019, they will collect interviews and observations in 10 different communities, multiplying at the local level the participatory research approach of the training. Their findings will constitute the core of the impact assessment efforts of the Raising Peace Campaign, which will also rely on the collection of quantitative data form the volunteers involved in the actions, drawing a complete and representative picture of the IVS contribution to the promotion of peace, human rights and social inclusion.

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