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Commissioning For Social Outcomes – What We’ve Learnt So Far

Commissioning For Social Outcomes – What We’ve Learnt So Far

Ruth Hollis, Director of Policy and Impact and Barry Horne, Chief Executive, EFDS

Get Out Get Active (GOGA) is Spirit of 2012’s flagship physical activity intervention and our largest grant at £4.5m over 3 years – 10% of our overall £47m endowment from the Big Lottery Fund. GOGA is delivered by Activity Alliance, in partnership with the Home Country Federations of Disability Sport and a range of national and local delivery partners.

GOGA uses a wide range of locally-delivered, locally-responsive physical activity interventions to engage the least active disabled and non-disabled people in activity together. To date more than 5000 people have engaged in the programme across 18 localities.

In January 2018 Activity Alliance CEO Barry Horne and I presented to the Sport and Recreation Alliance Annual Convention Fit for the Future on our experiences and reflections of commissioning the GOGA programme from the funder and delivery organisation perspectives. Here are some top lessons from our presentation and discussions with senior sports sector leaders.

1. Ensure the outcomes you want the programme to deliver clearly align with the applicants’ organisational strategy and that of the funder, in our case reflected in our Theory of Change , and that they remain consistent and central throughout the commissioning process – locations and activities may change but the target outcomes should stay the same. This is crucial for both the funder and delivery organisation.

2. Consult early, consult often – from the funder’s perspective this means engaging sector experts and potential delivery organisations before you finalise the design. Let your assumptions be challenged. Keep asking: how can our investment have the most impact for the people that will take part and how does it fit in the wider funding landscape and not duplicate other funds or programmes?

Early in the process we held a series of workshops – before we advertised the GOGA opportunity – and asked potential bidders to come with open minds, leave their competitive side at the door and contribute to development of an opportunity they might not win.

During the development phase Activity Alliance and partners did detailed work in the potential delivery localities to assess not just the need but also the willingness and drive to become part of the GOGA project. They’ve developed a strong network of localities that have a local feel and ownership but are clear about the bigger picture and what they’re contributing to on a national level.

3. Be explicit about your expectations – Holding the workshops also allowed us to be really clear about what we mean when we say “we’re an outcomes-based funder” and be explicit about how this will work through our emphasis on M&E and active, engaged grant management style. For Activity Alliance it meant they really understood Spirit as a funder before they signed the grant agreement and were confident about what we wanted from the grant, aligned with their strategic direction.

This period of expectation setting works both ways. Activity Alliance were able to be clear with us that GOGA couldn’t be a mass-participation programme and that if we wanted real, sustainable social outcomes it meant working with less people in more depth. Knowing that they really understood the challenge of the social outcomes meant we could sign up to lower target numbers.

Setting those expectations early has meant we have a stronger and more honest relationship now we’re in the delivery phase.

4. Link the activity to outcomes that PEOPLE relate to – for funders and delivery organisations it’s important to set out the top-level outcomes – increasing wellbeing, combatting isolation and loneliness, increasing people’s active time. But people are at the heart of this programme and for the people taking part in the activities carefully crafted social outcomes is not what’s going to drive them to keep coming back. Align the outcomes with the individual motivations and you will have a much better chance of engaging people in the programme and working with beneficiaries to really understand the impact for them as individuals. Knowing that coming with a friend and having a cup of tea is more important to them than the ‘sport’ means you can design sessions to keep people engaged and coming back. And back up your data by telling their stories in ways that are meaningful for them.

5. Don’t leave evaluation until the end and communicate evaluation outcomes as they emerge – It’s all very well talking a good game about outcomes but that comes apart if you can’t collect robust and meaningful evidence to support delivery of the outcomes. Activity Alliance’s evaluation partner, Wavehill, are an integral part of the delivery team. They were appointed before the activities commenced so they could work with consortium partners to translate our high level social outcomes into really practical and engaging tools for the partners in the delivery organisations that would be collecting the data from participants. At the start of the delivery phase they engaged all the localities in the design of the framework and the surveys. As a result, they have put in place a carefully crafted framework so that participants are asked for outcome data at an appropriate time in their engagement and in a way that won’t put them off coming back. Having them as part of the team means a constant cycle of check and challenge on both sides so we know we’re getting the most robust, appropriate evaluation we can.

Activity Alliance’s regular GOGA newsletters and annual GOGA conference enables all delivery partners – national and local – to come together to share and celebrate progress and learn from what’s really happening on the ground. To really engage local delivery organisations in an outcome-based evaluation it’s important to have that feedback loop so that learning and insight comes back to people collecting the data and early changes can be made as a result of evaluation trends and emerging evidence.

Measuring outcomes is, undoubtedly, harder than measuring outputs but it’s definitely worthwhile and means you can really use sport and physical activity to engage people in ways that are meaningful for them and really understand the full benefit of the activities you provide.