Helping Protect the Reef – Innovation and Impact at a Glance

For Earth Day this year, we look at how visual dashboards are giving scientists and community conservationists a fighting chance to protect and restore one of the world’s living wonders – the Great Barrier Reef.

Celebrating female creatives #IWD22

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign encourages us to break the bias and champion women that are forging paths in their field. What better way to break the biases than hearing from women making waves in data and design?

Our Plan A to become a B Corp

Sometimes it can be challenging being the only evaluation or impact measurement specialist in your organisation. You might enjoy a unique bird’s eye view across all of your organisation’s activities and impact. But you may also sit (virtually, these days) slightly apart from the teams knee-deep in design and implementation. And so when you run into a really sticky MEL issue – where do you go to for advice?

My Career in MEL – Part 1

Thinking about a new career? You’re not alone according to research, which shows during COVID around a third of us have seriously considered alternate employment. And one thing that’s keeping people in their current roles? Feeling engaged with their work. We recently spoke to evaluation experts Zazie Tolmer and Dr Jess Dart to get their insights on what skills they started with, what they’ve needed to build, and what you should be considering for a career in the changing MEL landscape.

5 Key Learnings on Digitalising Evaluation

Before taking on a new role, our Chief Digital Officer Jenny Riley shares insights from her time building a new business area for Clear Horizon – evaluating digital interventions – learnings which have rapidly become all-too-applicable to anyone working in today’s evaluation and social impact space.

Connected Beginnings

“This project has given us the framework to evidence social change and create impact for our Aboriginal families and vulnerable children.” – Connected Beginnings Partner.

Find out how this SIMNA award-winning impact measurement solution is harnessing digital technology and collective approaches to problem solving and reporting to bring funders and communities together on the journey of change.

Our Community

Sometimes it can be challenging being the only evaluation or impact measurement specialist in your organisation. You might enjoy a unique bird’s eye view across all of your organisation’s activities and impact. But you may also sit (virtually, these days) slightly apart from the teams knee-deep in design and implementation. And so when you run into a really sticky MEL issue – where do you go to for advice?

Developmental Evaluation – the approach designed to support and accelerate social innovation.

A conversation with Dr Jess Dart, Anna Powell and Dr Ellise Barkley about the challenges and opportunities presented by systems change and place-based approaches, and why evaluators in the space are truly the jazz players of the evaluation world.

Why I’m Chairing a conference on Social Outcomes – and why I think you need to be there.

Measuring and Evaluating Social Outcomes 2021

Adapting to complex change & using digital tools to measure impact.


I know it’s a cliché, but the world has changed. And for those of us looking to measure and evaluate those changes? Our world is changing too. We’re in the middle of a massive digital transformation – the traditional tools and systems to measure and manage data are struggling to keep up, and programs and projects have morphed overnight into online delivery modalities, upending program plans and associated measurement and evaluation frameworks.

In my role, it’s something I’m seeing on a daily basis, and it’s also something I believe we as social innovators and evaluators need to get in front of. That’s why I’m chairing next week’s conference on Measuring & Evaluating Social Outcomes 2021, focussing on adapting to complex change and using digital tools to measure impact.

We have an amazing variety of speakers from government, NGOs and universities, as well as indeoendent consultants – all at the cutting edge of this practice. Some of the organisations being represented include Headspace, Movember, The Benevolent Society, National Centre for Indigenous Excellence as well as Centre for Social Impact and my colleagues at Our Community, Social Outcomes, Civita, NSW Dept of Ed, Treasury, VIC Dept of Health…the list goes on.

Despite working in this space, I’m slightly nervous about chairing this two day event, as I don’t really like being online for longer than 45mins at a time, and am a little worried everyone is totally zoom fatigued. However, we’re trying to combat that by keeping the sessions bite-sized, and the conference won’t take up the entire two days. It will also be a chance to network and engage with other attendees – through ‘virtual tables’ (although I’m not sure if we’ll get virtual minties with that). I reckon it’ll be fun and engaging, so I’d also encourage you to get a few peeps together and call in as a group. Here’s what we’ll be covering:

Day One is all about adaptive responses to rapid and complex change.

We have an international keynote zooming in from London to talk about rapid qual research and responsive research (is that like action research?), followed by Eleanor Williams from Dept of Health who lead her team to do rapid outcomes measurement in the middle of Melbourne’s Covid response. This is a fascinating case study and Eleanor is a great speaker. This will be followed up with more case studies from Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and NSW Treasury. Treasury are going to talk about Cost Benefit Analysis in Aboriginal-specific programs that incorporate culture and connection to Country (I am totally intrigued to hear how that works). On the theme of First Nations people, the awesome Skye Trudgett and Isobel Ingraham from NCIE are going to challenge our mindsets of how to measure and evaluate impact for First Nations People – and we all need to hear this.

Our last session for Day One will be from the NSW Departments of Education and Treasury about how they’ve been implementing outcomes-based contracting for youth employment programs. Personally, I want to know what worked, were their intended outcomes met, did people game the system? I have so many questions!

On Day Two, we’re diving into embedding online and digital tools to measure and track impact.

Elizabeth and Graham Brown from CSI are going to tell us about their great work with Amplify. Nic Telford from Headspace and Jen Anderson from Movember are both presenting on their experiences as evaluation leads in organisations delivering digital services to constituents. Ethel Karskens is going to talk about high quality data for reporting, because we all know what it means for our work if you can’t trust the data. In the afternoon, we’ll be talking about funding and outcomes with the trailblazing Kathy Richardson sharing some really great changes to SmartyGrants (the biggest granting software in Australia) and how that’s being used to track outcomes for funders. We’re going to finish up with a great panel with Vanessa Lesnie from Social Outcomes, Tanya Jackson-Vaughan from Stepping Stone House and Claudia Lennon, the Director of Practice and Impact Management at The Benevolent Society discussing the future of funding and outcomes and ‘impact risk’.

Phew! Ok, I’m less nervous now, and convinced it’s going to be a great few days. There will also be workshops for those who want to dig deeper. Vanessa is running a workshop on outcomes-based contracts (essential for any organisation thinking about entering one of these), and I’ll be running a workshop on outcomes measurement with digital tools. Ethel will also be running a session on using data to tell a compelling story – which is often the missing middle, that is, the translation of data to insights. You can check out the full agenda here.

I hope to see you there – albeit as a tiny little square on my screen  . The Hatchery (who is hosting the event) have some great tech to track questions and discussion points, which will document a rich and diverse conversation as we learn together about how our practice is rapidly changing, how we have adapted in these complex times, how we can use digital to improve our practice in these times.t

ChangeFest 2021

An invitation to deepen place-based approaches

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we met for ChangeFest, the Larrakia People, and pay respect to Elders past, present, and emerging. Thank you to the Larrakia Elders, hosts, and community, for the generous welcome and for sharing your rich insights and experience.

During 8th – 11th June, hundreds of place-based change-makers met on Larrakia country for ChangeFest 2021 in Darwin. The national gathering has been happening since 2018 and its focus on First Nations inclusion and leadership was strong. Participating were community-led collaborations, service providers, project teams, networks, activists, government partners and policy makers, sponsors, community members, designers, and evaluators interested in improving social outcomes for Australian communities.

Key take-homes to deepen practice

Inspiring examples of local and systems led change were shared, as well as lessons and stories of trauma and inequity. By design, and through this sharing, I left with a take-home pack of timely questions that will help me deepen my place-based practice.

  • First, ChangeFest asked me to reflect on how I can more fully and proactively bring The Uluru Statement from the Heart to life in my work and partnerships.
  • Second, I was asked to explore how I show up in collaborations (the ‘dance’ we do with others in the system), and look behind the curtain at how and why I might step back from collaborating when things get challenging (check out Deep Collaboration).
  • Third La Boite Theatre asked: What commitments can I make to include young people and what commitments will I take back to them?

The first one is particularly important – it will take me beyond endorsing and sharing the statement to deeply engaging with it in conversation with others and using it as a compass for my practice.

Enablers and barriers of place-based approaches

As an evaluator specialising in systems change and place-based approaches, I am always interested in hearing insights about what’s helping support systems change and what’s getting in the way when it comes to community-led change and assessing progress and social impact.

A few of the resounding enablers for place-based change included:

  • Importance of building respectful and trusted relationships and networks, and then embedding these so collaboration goes beyond only relationships.
  • Keeping community voice at the forefront and listening deeply to community.
  • Connecting people and efforts across the ‘system’.
  • Drawing on/ using Indigenous ways of working to keep culture at the centre of practice for First Nations communities. One wonderful example was from Galiwin’ku Connected Beginnings who are using local Yolŋu metaphors, language, and their kinship model as the central framework for their collective practice and measurement, evaluation and learning.
  • Using data and stories to demonstrate change, build momentum, and celebrate the wins (see Clear Horizon’s resources page for tools to help with this).

On the flipside, some of the ongoing challenges expressed by change-makers included lack of trust between partners and community, the impact of trauma on individuals, communities, and intergenerationally, lack of communication, duplication and fragmented efforts across systems, and the ongoing work of power sharing to enable communities to have greater control and self-determination.

These themes certainly fit with what we see through our work with change-makers in place-based contexts. And never too far away were the much-asked questions ‘How do we know if we are on track given all this complexity?’ or ‘Are we making a difference for kids and families?’

For my own practice, knowing if we are making a difference requires the short and messy loops of learning about what’s working in place, the shifts happening in the way people collaborate and put equity for First Nations peoples at the centre, and tracking how our mindsets and practice affects collectively driven change. Simultaneously, robust ways of checking impact over the long term are needed to show the contribution of our place-based work in improving the experience and lives of local communities. This requires looking at the numbers and stories that matter for community and partners and acknowledging there will be diverse perspectives on what counts as evidence and that specific outcome areas we might be seeking to improve such as ‘health’, ‘education’ or ‘identity and culture’ are all interconnected in the bigger story of social change.

Thanks to all the change-makers and ChangeFest organisers for getting us together to deepen our place-based work. It was a rich week of connecting and learning.

Hero image: The Change-makers of ChangeFest

Image above: Opening ceremony and Welcome to Country with Aunty June and Larrakia community

Images courtesy of ChangeFest organisers 2021