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Taking the ruler to your awareness event

29 August 2012

Will you be celebrating Organic Month in September? Perhaps marking Migraine Week or focusing on a single awareness day such as International Literacy Day, World Alzheimer’s Day or World Heart Day? With the summer holidays over, September is packed with awareness events. Noise levels will be high as local, national and international organisations all compete for attention.

For communicators working in charities, awareness events can be a frantic time, with teams preparing for fundraising events and communicating with supporters, as well as ensuring wider appeal and media pick up. When it’s all over those involved may rightly feel they deserve a pat on the back and a well-earned break.

In reality, though, that’s not the end of the job. Evaluation of the impact awareness events have had is a critical part of the cycle; with so much frenetic energy in the run up to the day itself it can be tricky to measure the outcomes objectively. However, if the successes and challenges aren’t openly recorded and reviewed, they can be forgotten in next year’s planning – no matter how early that kicks off! So, whether you plump for an awareness day, week or month, here are our suggestions for effective evaluation:

1. Revisit the original aims

It’s important to keep the ultimate aims of the campaign front of mind throughout planning, delivering and evaluating an awareness event. Returning to your original planning and scoping documents throughout will keep the core aims of the awareness campaign clear in your mind, and will remind you of what you hoped to achieve at the start of the process. Inevitably elements will have changed and your evaluation will need to allow for this but it is worth reviewing this original scope to see how the event measured up. Building in evaluation criteria at the start of the project will make this process significantly easier, but you can also use evaluation as a bench mark for the following year’s campaign if that hasn’t happened.

2. Be specific

It’s tempting to report only on the information that is readily available, but to get real understanding you should be prepared to drill down into information and uncover new insight. For example, can you isolate the number of blogs and online articles with links to your website, or which sources drove the most traffic? Have you asked visitors at events and fundraisers how they became involved in the project and what they liked and didn’t like about it? Wherever possible try to add a real financial value to your measurement- making it tangible rather than abstract.

3. Listen to everyone

With a wide variety of stakeholders, from staff and volunteers to service users and journalists, it can be difficult to know who to approach when seeking feedback. It may not be easy, but where possible you need to speak to a wide range of people to gain comprehensive feedback. Start by designing a quick and simple questionnaire, which you can use over the phone, in person or online. Then select a range of participants from your contact database. This will help you to identify differences of opinion within the variety of stakeholder groups. For example, your event may have been successful in engaging volunteers and supporters, while failing to make an impact with journalists and the wider public.

4. Encourage open, honest dialogue

It can be tempting to focus on the positive outcomes and the most upbeat feedback from the event but it is helpful try to encourage genuine feedback with real criticisms. Project leaders and senior management must take the lead on this, communicating the importance of open dialogue. Make it clear that the aim of the exercise is not to point fingers or devalue the hard work of those involved but rather to consider the lessons for next year’s event.

5. Consider bringing in an independent expert to manage sessions

Being objective when you’re looking at your own work and organisation is never easy. Having spent months consumed by a project it can be tricky to produce clear evaluation. You could consider asking someone from outside your organisation to step in and chair a session. This need not be expensive: for example agencies and consultants may chair pro-bono workshops helping you to tease out the valuable insights. Investing time in this process soon after the event will allow you not only to report accurately to your organisation, trustees and supporters, but also to have a clearer understanding of the event and valuable ideas for adapting and improving future campaigns.

Ellen O’Donoghue

director, health promotion programs, Movember

Ellen is the director, health promotion programs at Movember. Previously, she headed up the team at Forster specialising in behaviour change and strategic communications.