Hannah Woods, Gingerbread’s Head of Evaluation and Learning explains how the charity for single parents is working with Renaisi to use evidence to inform organisational strategies and learning.

Gingerbread has been championing single parents for over a hundred years, but like many charities today, we face tough decisions about where we concentrate our efforts. Through our strategic review and the development of our new 2018 – 2021 strategy it became clear that single parents’ needs were changing and in response we needed to adapt what we do.

For a long time at Gingerbread, we have used evidence and insight to successfully campaign and influence policy and public debate to create a better world for single parents. However, we have rarely used this approach to redesign services and programmes; too often these have responded to funder requirements.

With funding from the City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, Gingerbread was able to commission a research consortium to inform development of a ‘change framework’ – a corporate theory of change if you like.

Renaisi already evaluate two significant direct delivery projects for Gingerbread so we asked them to lead a research consortium as our learning partner. They extended beyond their role as evaluators to act as an independent, critical friend.

Developing a corporate change framework

The process to develop our Change Framework has provided clarity of focus on what we deliver and a better understanding of where to scale our impact. It will guide decisions to help streamline our offer, develop our services, and ensure that as an organisation we are fit to meet the evolving needs of single parents longer term.

We used a four-stage process exploring four key questions to design our Change Framework.

1. Qualitative research: What do single parents need from Gingerbread?

Single parents gave us a very clear recommendation on where Gingerbread should focus in the future including providing emotional support, campaigning and advocacy, and increased promotion and advertising.

2. Internal consultationWhat does staff and trustees’ experience tell us?

Renaisi provided independent support to draw on staff and trustees’ invaluable experience and insight, and to embed a learning culture in which everyone is involved in considering our impact and being curious about what works.

This phase highlighted the importance of investing in our network of single parents; building greater synergies across our different areas of work including direct delivery, advice and campaigns, and building stronger strategic partnerships to reach more single parents.

3. Evidence review: What can we learn from our existing evidence base?

The purpose of this external review was to build an understanding of what works and provide evidence to inform the design of services that Gingerbread delivers in these areas. We paid particular attention to key areas including well-being, peer support, and emotional support.

4. External consultation: What is important to our external stakeholders?

We asked Renaisi to chair and facilitate an event that brought together existing and potential new funders, delivery partners, and third sector organisations with an interest in single parents to feedback on our draft Change Framework.

This phase highlighted the need to provide more detail on the focus of our partnership working, our campaigns and policy work, and bring single parent voices to the forefront of our work to build a movement for single parents.

Why choose a learning partnership approach to organisational change?

To enable Gingerbread to focus on evidence-based strategy and service design we needed to work with an independent organisation that could help us consider how to respond to the emerging findings.

Renaisi’s unique combination of evaluation consultancy and service delivery provides a credible and influential perspective. Renaisi understand how to engage and support vulnerable, marginalised, and disadvantaged communities – many of whom are single parents.  This was particularly important to consider issues around our service design and reach. As well as consider how to engage service delivery staff in the consultation process.

Renaisi also chaired our research consortium, bringing together our external researchers and senior management teams to apply the learning from the evidence, tackle some uncomfortable truths, and take challenging decisions.

At times it was a tough journey for Gingerbread but these challenging conversations were the real highlight of a good learning partnership.

Gingerbread’s learning journey

Our Change Framework is part of an intentional learning journey. Two years into our strategic review process, the feedback from single parents, our own reflections, and the external evidence delivers a powerful message and roadmap for Gingerbread’s future. Now we are now looking at how we respond to the learning.

We want to celebrate our successes but also be honest about what we need to change.

An essential pillar of our strategy is working with others to build transparent and open partnerships to deliver our strategy to 2021 and beyond. This is why we have published our Change Framework report to share insights and learning on single parents’ needs.

Hannah Woods is Head of Learning and Evaluation at Gingerbread.