Citizens Online run digital inclusion projects – Get IT Together across the UK. We help individuals, particularly older and disabled people get started with the Internet and we have some robust measures in place to understand the journey learners go on in becoming regular Internet users.
Our latest project in Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) has a slightly different focus. Its aims are still to help disadvantaged people access the Internet, but this time using young volunteers who will gain employability skills by volunteering with the project. Our existing measures can record the progress of the learners, but how do we capture the benefits gained by the young volunteers?
I’ve been looking at a whole range of measures on employability to see which ones we can use to demonstrate the outcomes of our project. It’s really difficult to assess this area. There’s not definition of “employable” and skills sets vary depending on the type of employment you’re looking for. Some schemes measures steps on the way to employment, but these are not consistently defined and can seem slightly artificial.
Our RCT project co-ordinator Ryan is a trained Rickter Scale assessor. A system that uses boards and cards with the user to show the distance travelled during a project. The system costs around £100 and I really liked the idea of a scale of progress. But for me, as a mathematician is too focused on the soft skills that volunteers would gain. How am I to cost the value to society from areas like happiness and relationships? I also think that the system isn’t digital enough. For a digital inclusion charity, we need an online measure to enable the volunteers to demonstrate their IT skills from the start.
The next system I reviewed was Outcome Stars. Recommended by a Close Partner I had high hopes this would cover the areas we needed. I really liked the questions that were asked and the focus on different areas of working life. It’s an online system so ticks another box for me. However, the system is costly and for a charity like ours, that’s an important feature.
We already have a questionnaire based assessment process and a longitudinal study that produce extremely robust, interesting data for us. We’re trying different ways of presenting the data, and I’d like to develop a more interactive tool to query the dataset. However, the underlying data is brilliant and the data we get from phoning learners up after their finished the training provides us with a unique insight into what happens next. I want to use the strengths of the existing system for our young volunteers. That way, if they found employment or further training in the future, we would be able to find out.
I designed two questionnaires; An entry questionnaire for volunteers starting with the project, and an exit questionnaire for those who’ve completed some volunteering with us. How much volunteering they need to do is still to be decided! We’ll be making them available online so volunteers can immediately demonstrate their Internet capabilities.
The entry form captures demographic information (always needed), their current Internet access, use of devices, and use of the Internet for job-seeking. It then assesses their confidence in a number of key areas (softer skills), their current employment status and what they’d like to get from volunteering. The exit form asks for similar information to measure their progress against these key measures. We’re then planning a phone call 3 or 6 months down the line to see what they’ve done since volunteering. Again, we’d like to show their progress from starting with Get IT Together to the latest progress report. We’ve tried to combine both quantitative and qualitative data to get a comprehensive picture of the benefits our programme offers to young volunteers. This will enable us to demonstrate the value of our project to funders and most importantly ensure that the ideas we think will work, actually do.
If you’ve got any ideas for measuring employability or have found a system that works for you, please share it with us. We’re always looking for new ways to measure outcomes (rather than simply measuring outputs).