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Guide to Excellence in Evidence for Faith Groups

joint learning initiative

Guide to Excellence in Evidence for Faith Groups

The Guide to Excellence in Evidence for Faith Groups is produced collaboratively by diverse religious and faith groups – local, national, and global – who are members of the Evidence Working Group. The Online Guide supports the gathering and sharing of evidence by religious and faith-based organizations. The Guide provides details about their work to alleviate poverty and enhance the wellbeing of their local communities.

This site was created to share our experience and knowledge with companion faith groups and to promote joint learning. We all strive to improve the excellence of the evidence for our work. We recognize we all have much to learn from one other. On the site, you will find reflections on measurement challenges, tools we use to gather information, examples of data collection approaches, and other resources. No one size fits all! Although the examples and tools on the site are tailored to specific communities and programs, some of the materials may be adaptable to your own programs.

In our journeys of learning how to collect and use evidence, we have learned that faith groups have distinctive faith-inspired perspectives on evidence. We want to track basic information that tell us whether and how our programs benefit communities. Also, whether there are distinctive benefits of faith-based work. We do not have all the answers, but we wish to share with you the answers we do have, and the benefits that using evidence can bring to our work.

Resource Library

Why should faith groups care about evidence?

Evidence is accurate and reliable information that helps us understand our world. It can help us make good decisions about what we can do to benefit our communities. To develop evidence, faith groups must at least collect basic information or data about what the program is doing (program activities), who the program is serving (beneficiaries), and the costs, which often comprise “mainstream” data. This basic information is not enough. It is also important to also measure the outcomes and impact of work. Some faith groups may also track distinctive attributes of religious and faith-based programming such as changes in belief, hope, and other ‘spiritual metrics’.

More on Evidence

As trusted leaders in our community, we are often called upon to make decisions that will impact many lives in our community. What does our community need? What actions should we take to best serve our community? What is God calling us to do? How do we ensure we are making the right decisions?

Often, we seek understanding about a situation before making decisions. Seeking understanding might mean sitting with an individual, asking them to explain their struggles, and working with them to develop recommendations of what to do. Seeking understanding might mean inviting community members together to ask about how a new service is affecting their lives. Seeking understanding might mean learning from others who have addressed similar challenges.

By asking questions and listening for answers, you are seeking understanding that will help you make decisions. This is sometimes called using evidence to make a decision. At a basic level, evidence is truthful information that helps us understand our world. Evidence can help us understand where the resources are, who needs services and what we can do to help them. Evidence can show us how we can do our work better. It can help us make good decisions.

Why Faith Groups should care about Evidence

Accountability

When partners criticize us for not being good at counting, they are sometimes right! People of faith need to be held to account by people and by God for actions. Accountability can be a positive influence which ensures efficiency as well as learning. This guide will help people have the ability to give an account of their actions and the results. We must conduct an honest appraisal of our work and pursue truth beyond sentiment and anecdotes.

SERVICE

People of faith want to ensure we serve our communities to our maximum potential. People of faith and faith-based organizations play a major role in helping the poorest people around the world. To meet the huge challenges of poverty, disease, disaster and conflict, faith groups need to work to become even more efficient and effective in their services. To do this they must be willing to be guided by the best evidence of what works…and what doesn’t.

REACH

Faith groups can also reach more people and do more by collaborating with others, including other faith groups, secular organizations, public sector bodies and donors. Good record keeping and reporting evidence with thoughtful analysis is key to healthy partnerships, good stewardship, and mutual learning.

HOLISTIC NATURE

People of faith may have their differences but we agree that people are holistic, integrated beings with a spiritual dimension. The holistic nature of people is too often ignored when evidence is being gathered but we know, from long experience, that this must be recognised and appreciated to ensure long term, sustainable development.

How can faith groups get started or get better at collecting and using evidence?

We hope the resources and information in this guide can help faith groups interested in beginning or improving their evidence collection processes. We suggest faith groups:

Develop a Theory of Change that aligns with their faith-inspired perspective on how their programs are improving their communities.

When faith groups begin to think about what evidence they need to collect, they first need to understand their theory of change. A theory of change is a detailed and clear map of how a program makes an impact on its community. Understanding your group’s theory of change will help map out what information should be collected and how it can be used. Read More about Theory of Change

Theory of Change – A Theory of Change (ToC) starts with the change in the world a faith group wants to see and works backward to lay out everything the faith group thinks will need to happen to bring it about (e.g., processes, activities, resources). It identifies the key players (including the organization, partners, public and private sectors) who will need to be involved, what each of those players will have to do, and clear rationales or assumptions on why they are likely to behave in the way you expect. These key players do not need to be an individual or organization, but could also be components of an intervention (e.g., a course, lesson, vaccine, loan, etc.).

ToCs are helpful for a variety of reasons, by clearly articulating the underlying theory on how and why change happens, the processes and activities involved can be evaluated and improved upon, as well as explained to relevant stakeholders. While other formats might be very rigid, ToC is flexible and can often be visually represented and mapped out.

Faith groups have distinctive theories of change, taking into account the influence of the divine. These specific theories of change in turn affect faith groups’ view of evidence and what evidence is important to collect, and how and to whom that evidence is communicated.

A Model of a Faith-Inspired Theory of Change

The JLI Mobilisation of Local Faith Communities Learning Hub developed a theory of change for faith-inspired groups that can be used to shape your thinking about your faith group’s theory of change.

The first step in getting started with collecting evidence is developing a strong foundational theory of change. Faith-inspired theory of change will help you understand what you should be collecting evidence about.

Develop a plan of action for the use and communication of data

In the early planning phases of evidence-gathering, consider and articulate why you are collecting the information and data. The goal of collecting information and data is to use it to make better decisions about the program. You can ask yourself: How will the information and data be used? Who is the audience of the information? How will we report the results? This could be anything from an internal report, grant proposal, presentation, conference poster, or article in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Commit to learn together

None of us find this easy but we have learnt it helps to work together. The Evidence Working Group have gathered together a number of key resources to help you improve the quality of your evidence.

How does our faith shape our understanding of evidence?

Faith groups are committed ‘to act guided by the best evidence of what works and what does not.’We must therefore improve our use of data. We can use many of the measurement tools developed by non-faith groups for example) the SDG indicators and targets provide a useful framework to collaborate with non-religious partners in our common task towards Agenda 2030. However, in some cases, faith groups find that the available evidence does not fully capture the holistic, integrated and spiritual dimensions of personal and community well-being. Many faith-based groups find that faith offers a unique perspective on evidence.This may be for several reasons:

Faith Perspective

Faith groups have a unique and valuable perspective on how their work affects change in their communities (also known as Theory of Change). Evidence collection depends on the evidence collector’s perspective on how change is brought about in a community. Faith groups see faith and the divine playing a role in community change.

Different Outcomes

Faith groups often see the outcomes of their work as different from what other stakeholders achieve. Faith groups often see holistic well-being and human growth in areas such as faith, hope, and trust to be the ultimate outcomes of their work. However, other stakeholders are unlikely to measure these areas. Faith groups increasingly see the need for additional people-centered tools that measure outcomes such as hope, faith, and love.

Operating Differences

Other stakeholders don’t always understand how faith groups operate and their contributions to community well-being. Their models of data collection don’t always capture all of what faith groups may be interested in collecting.

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