5 Data Collection and Governance
The following chapter considers the data collection methods employed by FFTF funded projects. It will outline and evaluate these methods. How these projects were governed, including an evaluation of that governance, will be discussed.
5.1 Data Collection
This section outlines the techniques used by projects for data collection, the challenges projects faced in collecting data, the extent to which they were successful at tracking impact and considers what worked for projects. There were no noticeable differences between food justice and transition projects in terms of their approaches to data collection.
5.1.1 Were projects successful in tracking their impact?
Projects recognised that having information on participants was helpful in the provision of adequate support. Collecting this data helped projects to provide context for participants’ behaviour, feelings and actions.
Most projects collected data on attendance numbers and outputs such, as courses delivered and community meals run. Some projects collected exact attendance numbers or asked participants to fill in forms when they first attended. Others estimated rough numbers. Some asked participants for their initials, others for their names and others asked for no information from participants. Few projects collected data on the profile of participants. Instead, they relied on staff observation of participants to gain an understanding of the age, ethnicity and needs of participants.
Few projects collected outcome data directly from participants. Most used staff observations to gather views on the outcomes achieved. This was usually well structured and required staff to keep log books and/or have formal discussions where staff reflected on the activities and their impact. The Barn (part of the Bridging The Gap’s FFTF project working with young people) reflected as a staff team after each session, using the eight principles of the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) approach.
“We build up a picture of how young people are doing and issues that arise for them. We are going to develop this further so that we can identify more easily common themes that crop up during sessions which should enable us to tailor sessions.” – Staff member at The Barn
Some projects, such as Castlemilk Parish Church and St Paul’s Youth Forum, used suggestion boxes to seek feedback on the service. In both projects, this took the form of a box into which participants could drop anonymous written suggestions. The location of the suggestion box was important; this needed to be obvious enough for participants to give feedback, but discrete enough for participants not to feel embarrassed about contributing.
From these approaches, projects appeared to have a good understanding of the nature and extent of their impact. Within the resources available for the project and what they were trying to achieve, we suggest that this mix of data and staff observations was an appropriate and practical solution. Funders need to recognise that more detailed and direct data collection will require further resources.
5.1.2 Data challenges faced by projects
While most projects recognised the utility of the data requested by the Scottish Government, some felt that the data collection was “very time consuming to do on top of the work itself” (staff member at one of the projects).
Small organisations were especially affected by this. Having few staff, often only one person employed, meant that allocating time to data collection was not always possible. Bigger and more established organisations were less affected by this. They were more likely to have practices, procedures and staff in place to effectively collect data.
“As the only worker in the organisation it would be nearly impossible to write a case note for the 70+ folk who use Community Soup each week.”
“It is difficult to collect personal information about mental health and wellbeing/depression/social isolation, income/finance/poverty levels of individuals, health conditions, levels of hunger - especially when we are working with over 30 individuals in the group.”
- Project Staff at two different organisations
Many projects were concerned that data collection could be intrusive. The potential for data collection to recreate the “helped” and “helpers” separation that they had fought so hard to remove was an issue. A number of projects also mentioned that gathering data was a challenge for them due to the complex needs of their participants.
“We started collecting more in-depth information about the needs and social and emotional development of the young people …Some young people seemed quite shell-shocked and emotionally drained after completing them with staff.”
“I feel that the building of relationships…are much more in line with what we strive for than stats. …for us to be as friendly as possible we only collect the bare minimum.”
“We have people who have learning difficulties, early onset dementia, severe depression/social isolation, autism, ADHD and English as a second language – which adds another level of complexity to how we can get detailed information from them.”
- Project Staff at three different organisations
Projects also discussed the difficulty of measuring some of the most valuable outcomes to them. Projects were confident about gathering data on their outputs - numbers attending community meals, numbers receiving training. But softer and indirect outcomes, such as reducing social isolation or building social skills and confidence, were seen by projects as the most important reason for their services to exist. However, these outcomes were much more difficult and intrusive to provide evidence for.
5.2 Project Governance
5.2.1 Governance structures
Thirty of the 33 FFTF projects were registered charities, many of which were Trusts. The three without charitable status were an unincorporated society (Granton Community Gardeners), a voluntary group (Sauchie Active8) and a community benefit society (Penicuik Community Alliance Ltd). Five of the 33 projects identified themselves as a company, four of which had charitable status (the fifth was the unincorporated society). Six were identified as church organisations, all of which were registered charities.
Case study projects generally reported to committees within their organisations. The type of committees varied across organisations, including a council of church elders, a community board, and a board of directors. These committees were generally responsible for making decisions regarding the direction of the organisation, funding opportunities and the type of projects to operate. Responsibilities were then delegated further down the organisation, sometimes to a manager or team of managers and sometimes directly to delivery staff. The extent of this delegation varied across projects - some project staff had responsibility for designing projects, while others retained programme decisions at committee or manager level.
Criteria for being appointed to these committees were generally:
- Contributing a community view – many of the committees were made up of community members. A number of projects involved current or ex-service users or people from the project’s target population (e.g. young people) on their committees
- Contributing an expertise – for example management, fundraising or social work. A number of projects mentioned that it could be difficult attracting and retaining committee members in unpaid positions.
Following decisions made by the committees, many would then conduct public consultation to seek the community’s views on their plans.
In most of the projects we spoke to project staff felt comfortable with the governance structures in place and felt that they understood their role within the organisation. They also knew where to go for help and what the escalation process looked like for conflict or issues. It was noted that some projects said that making fast operational decisions could be difficult if their committee members were very hands-off. It was also observed that governance structures appeared to be clearer and more formal for the more established organisations, with newer or small organisations more likely to rely on a more ad hoc arrangement.
5.2.2 Governance success
Projects that felt confident in their governance structures and delivery usually had some combination of the following:
- A hands-on board with relevant skills.
- a united front as an organisation
- a great understanding and passion among the board, staff, volunteers and participants about what the organisation was trying to achieve, and the methods and motivations behind these goals
- a process for ensuring that staff and volunteers had the skills they were looking for and investing in these – with a focus on being relatable, approachable and from within the community
- active management of volunteers – which involved balancing being open to anyone contributing to the project, while ensuring that appropriate people were in volunteer roles
- spending time building relationships with partners to avoid mistrust and competition between organisations working in the same communities
“I think it makes a huge difference if you go along and really explain what you are trying to do and achieve and what the benefits are” - Staff member at Moray Foodbank
Projects largely fell into two categories: (1) offshoots of well-established projects or (2) completely new services. The researchers initially hypothesised that offshoots of well-established projects would succeed more easily because they would have access to the previous project’s reputation and infrastructure. However, both types of project appeared to be doing well. Two examples of each type of project are discussed next.
The Barn has been operating in Gorbals for fifty years and is well-established in the local community. Part of its success has been due to its ability to adapt and evolve to changing circumstances. Some groups are longstanding, with new activities being incorporated into them. Other groups were new or in their infancy. For example, both the junior and senior youth groups at The Barn had only just begun to have community meals as a feature. The project decided to include this element because it recognised a need for free food provision within the local community. As the group already existed, attracting clients did not present a problem and infrastructure was in place to allow quick delivery.
For comparison, Pilmeny Development Project was a new, small project which effectively delivered the FFTF outcomes with its New Spin project. New Spin is an intergenerational project in which older volunteers work with young people across a range of activities, including cooking, arts and crafts. Despite the Pilmeny Development project only having one member of staff (due to funding restrictions), the project was a success. Similarly, Food For Thought West Dunbartonshire was well attended and received despite one member of staff.
Email: Catriona Rooke
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