The NASH’s story: How impact measurement processes helped this young Yorkshire-based organisation improve its engagement with users and funders

“Measuring the Good worked really well for us. Nick and I have an excellent working relationship and Nick has really helped me to refine and consolidate The NASH’s aims and to articulate pithy but simple questions – for both children and adults – that measure what difference we are making. The process has been excellent and there is nothing I would improve or change.” (Emily Rowe Rawlence, The NASH)

The NASH is short for ‘National School Hawes’ – the building is based in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and dates from 1845. It was originally a school, and then a church-run community space until it fell out of use. Emily Rowe Rawlence and Andrew Fagg bought the building in 2014 with the aim of bringing it back to life and The NASH re-opened in March 2016.

The organisation’s vision is for children, young people and families to have local access to high-quality arts, culture and educational activities for inspiration, learning and development. They deliver an annual programme of diverse, high-quality events and activities.

The NASH was matched to Nick Simms, who had joined the Measuring the Good programme as a volunteer in 2016 and already supported a number of different organisations through the process. Professionally, he has over 20 years’ experience in supporting organisations from the private, public and social sector to identify their strategic objectives, develop implementation plans and measure effectiveness and risks.

The Starting Point

The NASH is a very young organisation and at the time it joined Measuring the Good, it did not have any processes or frameworks in place for measuring its impact. While CEO Emily Rowe Rawlence knew anecdotally that it was making a difference to the lives of the children, young people and adults, the organisation could not evidence this.  

She had a concrete idea of what the NASH wanted to achieve as a result of Measuring the Good: 

“Ideally a simple process by which to measure our good.  Something that can be easily shared with our service-users and is quick and simple to fill out, but that is carefully considered so as to ask the right questions.  It would be really useful if the end-result could also function as a kind of community consultation – e.g. ideas for the future, is this a valid service etc. Primarily this process would enable us to have a correspondence with our users, but also it would prove to funders (present and future) that we are engaged and  making a positive difference.”

Working Through the Steps

Nick Simms describes the process that he guided Emily and The NASH through as follows: 

“We started by reviewing what The NASH was trying to achieve – I highlighted that Emily had potentially created a confusion between herself, as an arts professional, and the NASH itself – then looked at what measurement might be required to satisfy funding agencies. Emily developed questionnaires for children and for adults using The NASH for which I provided feedback and challenge.”

Emily also developed a bid for a project entitled The Story of Schools in the Upper Dales for the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Nick provided feedback and helped her focus on developing success criteria and the reporting to support the bid. 

Emily stressed the quality and professionalism of Nick and how well they worked together, which had a major impact on the success of the match: “Nick was great – insightful, clear-sighted, interested and supportive. He brought to the table a whole realm of relevant business experience and skills that were new to our organisation and imparted sound and helpful advice throughout.”

The Immediate Results

Emily feels The NASH has come a long way on its impact measurement journey: 

“We have moved from reporting our impact anecdotally to reporting it methodically – with evidence – and this gives us more weight and credibility in our funding applications. The evaluations also provide a useful and structured way for local children and adults to communicate with us about our projects and activities.”

The organisation now has a set of evaluation tools for measuring the impact of their programmes on children/young people and adults. Emily reported that it was difficult to develop tools that were appropriate to use with very young children, however, with Nick’s input decided to give them the option to write or draw their feedback.

Overall, she feels the processes and tools they have developed already have a positive impact on the organisation, its services and as a result its users: 

“Our feedback questionnaires definitely improve the quality of our services by enabling our participants to have their say, and the questionnaires also enable us to report back to our funders on the quality and impact of our work. We don’t currently use the questionnaires across all of our events – e.g. we use them for our arts events rather than for our weekly dance classes. However, I feel we have a strong model for a children’s evaluation and an adult’s evaluation that can now be modified as necessary. Our trustees are independently-minded but also guided by me in their decision-making. The evaluations are still relatively new, but I have no doubt they will inform our collective decision-making in the fullness of time.”

Comparing how Emily rated The NASH at the start of the programme and again at the end, it is evident just how much the organisation has developed across a range of different aspects: this includes a marked improvement in measurement skills and knowledge. Whereas previously Emily felt that the organisation was not measuring the quality of its services and activities, she feels they are now doing a fairly good job at this, only a few months after completing their match to Nick Simms. She also feels very confident at reporting the organisation’s impact, that impact measurement informs the NASH’s strategy, that staff and trustees are engaged in the measurement processes and that trustees are using impact data more to inform their decisions. Overall, she feels that they are “more professional with clear-sighted aims” and more confident that they are submitting successful funding bids.

Nick Simms, who primarily gave up his time to feel of value and share his experience with a charity, also felt the match had met his expectations: He said, as a result of this match, he gained “a feeling that I have been of some value which, for me, meets my main objective. I think I have also gained someone with whom I will stay in touch over an extended period.”

An Exciting Future

While The NASH continues to refine and embed its newly developed measurement framework, Emily and Nick also keep working together. Emily says: “Nick has agreed to continue mentoring The NASH as long as it’s mutually suitable. Recently, he has helped me to develop and refine a bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a multi-media project The Story of Schools in the Upper Dales, for which we have just had funding confirmed.”

She is also hopeful that The NASH will be able to embark on “larger-scale projects which will benefit the community of the Upper Dales and enable the growth of The NASH as a professional organisation.”