Melbourne council opens the books on evaluation of its grants

Posted on 05 Mar 2024

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, SmartyGrants

Dandenong City Council
The Greater Dandenong City Council has released early findings of a community grants program evalution.

A Melbourne council has broken new ground by revealing details of an early evaluation of its grants program before the program is even finished.

The Greater Dandenong City Council has worked with SmartyGrants to publish an interim review of its community grant program.

The council in Melbourne’s southeast ties its grants to a mission to build a socially connected, safe, healthy city. Its 2022–24 grants strategy involved about $160,000 in spending for each grant recipient over two years. There were 20 grant beneficiaries.

Monique O'Keefe
Greater Dandenong City Council grants officer Monique O'Keefe

Already a user of the SmartyGrants grants management platform, in 2021 the council was among the first to adopt the Outcomes Engine, a SmartyGrants add-on, to collect data and generate reports. The tool has enabled the council’s grant managers to better assess their activities, outcomes, metrics and qualitative data.

Early findings in the report by council grants officer Monique O'Keefe and SmartyGrants chief impact officer Jen Riley have highlighted areas in which grant recipients need greater guidance and support, the need to provide space for grantees to record unintended outcomes, and longer-term benefits.

The report recommended reducing the number of goals associated with the grants strategy, introducing a more rigorous theory of change, and standardising survey questions and response options. The council is expected to use the report to improve future rounds of grants.

Ms Riley said it was rare for an organisation to release an evaluation report, with most funders wary of reporting anything that did not present programs in a glowing light.

“For grantmakers this report is so valuable because it’s a living, learning document. This one is effectively still a draft report, but that means the wider funding community have the chance to use it to learn how to better use outcomes measurement to improve their work.”

Ms Riley said the council was one of the first to extract data from the SmartyGrants Outcomes Engine, examine it with an evaluation lens and use it to create an evaluation report.

“This study has shown that the Outcomes Engine has stood up well in a real-world environment and this report highlights how other organisations can make use of this tool in practice,” she said.

“I commend the leadership of the Greater Dandenong City Council in sharing this publication. It stands as an invaluable contribution to grants evaluation and I look forward to seeing their final report.”

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