Australian council rolls out outcomes system in a fortnight

The grantmaking team at Camden Council took only a fortnight to sign up to the Outcomes Engine, develop an outcomes framework, and start collecting data

Frere Mauger, Community Project Officer - Social Inclusion, Camden Council

Camden Council, 50km southwest of central Sydney, has areas of new development and pockets of old wealth, and an estimated population of 119,951.

The council offers an annual Community Small Grants round providing up to $6500 for projects proposed by community groups and organisations. Grants are available in the categories of minor works, culture and events, health and community well being, and sport and recreation, but until recently, measuring the outcomes of those projects was a labour-intensive and somewhat ad hoc process.

The grantmaking team at Camden saw a demo of the SmartyGrants Outcomes Engine towards the end of 2021, but at the time they had many other competing priorities. In August 2022, community project officer Frere Mauger reached out to Jen Riley in the SmartyGrants Outcomes Engine team to ask whether she could include the Outcomes Engine in a round opening on September 1 – just two weeks away!

“I was like sure, let’s give it a go!” says Jen.

All Outcomes Engine users receive eight hours of free consulting support to get them started, so the first step was a two-hour online meeting. At this meeting Frere and Jen reviewed the Camden program’s guidelines, which included information from the council’s Community Strategic Plan. Jen and Frere set the domains in the SmartyGrants outcomes framework template (see below, right) based on the focus areas of the strategic plan.

Image for camden article

They then listed desired outcomes for each domain, using a few simple rules:

  1. Start each outcome using a word that indicates a direction of change – e.g. “increase” or “reduce”.
  2. Ensure each outcome refers to a behaviour, attitude (or feeling), condition, knowledge or skill for the intended beneficiary.
  3. Make sure each outcome focuses on one change and is not double-barrelled or multi-barrelled.

Jen and Frere filled out the template together, Frere bringing her knowledge of the council’s strategic directions and the intentions of the grant program, and Jen prompting for clarity and providing some advice about wording the outcome statements. Together they were able to develop a list of outcome statements in about an hour.

The next step was to identify measures. Jen provided examples of how outcome statements could be turned into measures, and then Frere was able to complete the work, which she took to internal stakeholders for sign-off.

In the next two-hour session, which again was conducted online, Frere shared her screen and Jen walked her through how to upload the outcome framework into SmartyGrants, and how to insert the Outcomes Engine’s default standard sections into application forms.

Frere opened the round exactly as planned on September 1, 2022, and her colleagues were on board from the beginning.

“They were really excited about linking the grant outcome to the CSP and other strategies our team developed. There is a strong culture of planning and strategy in our team, so this aligned perfectly with what we are trying to achieve.”

Frere has since created another round for an upcoming youth week program, creating the outcome framework in one session in collaboration with the council’s youth community project officer.

“I sat down with our youth officer, who had come off the back of developing a youth strategic plan. We went through the guidelines and outcome statements and put them straight into the outcome language and framework,” Frere said. “He could see the opportunity to link the grants back to the strategy.”

Camden’s community round was still open at the time of writing, but Frere had had a good response so far from applicants and potential applicants. During information sessions she explained the outcomes questions with the aid of a PowerPoint slide.

“I explain it is actually easier for them,” she said. “Rather than applicants having to write an essay on what they are doing, why they are doing it and how they will measure it, we have taken the work out of it for them. The questions are simpler, and the drop-downs are there to help them along. Once I explain this to the applicants, they understand.”

Frere admitted to having felt a bit overwhelmed by the Outcomes Engine initially, but her apprehension was soon replaced by enthusiasm.

“When I first looked at it, it looked really daunting and I was worried about how we would get people to use it. But it is much easier to use than I thought – it is a very neat way to collect and collate data,” she said.

“Don’t be daunted by it. It is a new way of working, but it is a smarter way of doing things. If you take the time to build capacity with your community groups, it makes your process easier. You don’t have to create the questions and you can work it out as you go.”

Ask Jen more about outcomes and evaluation

SmartyGrants’ chief impact officer Jen Riley has more than 20 years’ experience in the social sector, having worked with government and large not-for-profits of all kinds in that time, and been part of leading firm Clear Horizon Consulting. She’s a specialist in social sector change with skills in strategic planning, program, and product design and management. If you’ve got a pressing question about evaluation and outcomes measurement, ask here! You'll find the answers on the SmartyGrants forum (available to SmartyGrants users)

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