Skip navigation
Blog

Listening and learning: the power of transparency, trust and two-way communication

Published

21 Oct 2016

EIF is a young organisation working in a rapidly developing sector. Much of what EIF does has not been done in the UK previously, and so we’re all learning as we go about how to improve the end results of our work and how we get there. Maintaining open, two-way communication with the rest of the early intervention sector is a vital part of this process of self-improvement.

Foundations for Life, published in July, was a landmark report for EIF, and also for the sector. Those people and organisations who run and manage early intervention programmes – our community of early intervention ‘providers’ – made a huge contribution to that report. Dozens of people submitted lots of detailed information to feed into our evidence assessments and cost ratings, and this work could not have been completed without their input and cooperation.

Foundations for Life was the first major review of its kind that we had done, and the process provided a steep learning curve for all of us. But the learning doesn’t stop when the report is published and we need to adapt and improve our processes. As we prepared to begin another round of programme assessments – this time focused on children’s social and emotional learning, or SEL – we asked ourselves how we could improve the process to make it easier and more transparent for everyone involved. Crucially, we also carried out a provider survey and asked our providers to comment on what didn’t work for them last time around, and what we could do to make it better this time. In addition, we also ran a consultation with providers of SEL programmes, inviting them to comment on our plans for the review. In light of their feedback, wider lessons-learned projects, and the advance consultation, we’ve made some changes to our processes for the SEL programme assessments and future projects of this kind.

But the learning doesn’t stop when the report is published and we need to adapt and improve our processes. As we prepared to begin another round of programme assessments … we asked ourselves how we could improve the process to make it easier and more transparent for everyone involved.

We received feedback that our submissions process was quite lengthy and not as clear as it could be. Information about the process wasn’t always obvious or available. So we have looked at ways we can improve this. One of the first changes we made was to try to make the information submission process much smoother. The submission form has been split into separate sections, so that it is easier to fill in and come back to later, and providers have longer to respond. We also reduced the amount of information we asked for in the initial submission form, to minimise the chance that anyone spends time providing information that is ultimately unnecessary.

Another important change we made was to improve the background paper for those providers who want to submit information. For example, we included more detail about EIF’s standards of evidence. This makes it easier for people to understand the thinking behind what we are doing, and to get a sense of the information we’re looking for when they make a submission. Finally, we created a terms of reference document, so that the review’s parameters were clear in advance. This has given providers a much clearer view of the focus of our work, and makes the whole process much more straightforward and transparent.

Taking on board the comments from partner organisations and programme leads has really helped us to adapt what we currently offer. While sometimes it’s hard to hear criticism and feedback, improving how we work is really important as we continue to develop our projects and processes.

Sustaining an open, positive and trusting relationship with the rest of our early intervention community is crucial to our ability to do our job. We need providers to trust that we will be honest and fair with them, and in return, we need them to be honest with us. This theme was reinforced at a meeting for providers that EIF held earlier this month. Trust is a necessary foundation for a fruitful relationship – it facilitates two-way dialogue and makes it easier to work together.

And this isn’t a one-time discussion, just because we closed the call for feedback. We’re always eager to hear what people think – did you work with us on our reviews on interparental relationships or Foundations for Life? If so, what do you think of the changes we are going to make? Is there more you’d like to see from us? Drop us an email at info@eif.org.uk

About the author

Daniel Acquah

Daniel is head of evaluation for the Youth Endowment Fund.