Those of us working in the field of cohesion and integration often face challenges when it comes to measuring the impact of our work. Organisations are often small and face financial constraints and other pressures. They often have limited resources to expend on evaluation and it can be difficult to choose to invest in this area when there are so many other pressing needs. Cohesion and Integration projects are often seeking to bring about subtle changes that can be difficult to quantify – such as changing people’s attitudes and behaviour, or helping people to feel more confident in their surroundings – and this change can happen over long periods in ways that are challenging to measure. And sometimes the impact of a project is only felt when a particular event happens, for example a trusted network to support cohesion can in a crisis or emergency be mobilised to calm local tensions and quickly connect community activists and leaders.
Pressure from funders and others to prove the impact of our work can feel like a burden. Certainly, more work needs to be done to increase the awareness of the challenges and complexity that those of us working in this field face when it comes to measuring the outcomes of the work we do.
Despite the challenges, evaluation can be an extremely fruitful and rewarding process. If done well, it can both fulfil the requirements of funders, and provide opportunities for us to reflect on our work and improve the quality, creativity and impact of what we do. All of us working in this field need to do more to measure our impact, so that others can learn from our work, and, crucially, so that we can make the case for investment in this long term ‘social glue’ work. We hope that, through the ongoing work of COIN, we will be able to support you with this process. In the long-term we are seeking to build a strong evidence base so that we can strengthen the support that organisations working in this important area receive. In the meantime we have provided some basic guidance below.