Top 5 tips on using Upshot to put the L(earning) into M&E

Non-profit organisations are often hard-wired to shout about our successes and stay quiet about failures. Funding realities incentivise us to produce polished impact reports that highlight the achievements while glossing over the blemishes in our record. Yet we all know that we learn best from our mistakes. In a world where we hide the negatives, how can we expect to turn them into positives?

For a while now we have been championing a vision for the charity sector that embraces transparency and gives delivery organisations the breathing room for trial and error, running events such as the F-word. We recognise that the best learning is possible when you have a clear account of the facts: 
The project smashed all of its targets – great, how we can replicate that success? 
We didn’t achieve our planned outputs – no problem, what needs to change so we can do better next time?

Here are five tips on how you can use Upshot to turn it from a monitoring and evaluation tool to a monitoring, evaluation and learning system:


1. Set clear goals
A profit-making company can easily demonstrate its success to investors by one simple metric: how much money it is making. The success of a non-profit organisation is less easily defined. How do you measure the “good” you are doing in your community? It’s therefore necessary for a charity to articulate its vision and mission and a road-map to help it get there. Whether it’s a strategy, an outcomes framework or a theory of change – you probably have one. 

We recognise that non-profits need to link their activities and outputs back to these defined goals. Whether the objectives have been given to you by a national strategy, a funder or you set them for your own organisation, it is imperative that you can show what you are working towards. 

That’s why when we set up your Upshot account, we ask first and foremost for your outcomes. These form the basis of your account and link back to your activities and indicators. To see how you are contributing to your outcomes today, why not click on the Outcomes tab on your performance dashboard or run a written project report? 

2. Live Monitoring
Collecting the right data on your delivery is not enough. You need to analyse it, identify trends and anomalies and draw conclusions. A daunting task, especially if you don’t have a dedicated knowledge and insight team. 

Therefore, it is so important for monitoring systems to be able to automate the most frequent questions you ask from your data and present the answers in a way that you can easily interpret. On Upshot we use a combination of Measured (quantitative) and Evidenced (qualitative) Indicators to show you live progress against set targets on your Performance Report. This sits front and centre on your home page so that every time you log in you know immediately how your projects are doing. Using a very visual traffic light system you can see easily whether you are on track to:

-    Deliver at least 25 CV workshops to under 18-year-olds,
-    Help 30 women achieve their Duke of Edinburgh Award this summer,
-    Or upload the three case studies you promised your funders. 

Project Managers can also add their own colour rating and written commentary against indicators to let explain to colleagues what factors are contributing to the current situation and what future interventions are planned. 


3. Where's the data?
But all of the monitoring above is impossible if the data is not input into the system in the first place. You can’t draw conclusions if you don’t know what’s going on. Making data collection a part of the daily routine is not always easy and often means a change in process. At Upshot we are constantly making the system more user-friendly and improving the way you perform tasks like uploading participant information and completing registers. And we also have a few flags in place that highlight when data is missing:

TO DO list
At the top of your home page sits your To Do list. Colleagues can assign each other tasks that sit here. But each session registrar will also see their own list of outstanding sessions that have not been completed yet. 

Registers column on Performance Report
The first column of the Performance Report on the home page is dedicated to how complete your registers are. For each project you will see the colour-coded percentage of the number of registers for past sessions that have been submitted. Don’t let this dip into the red or your Measured Indicators won’t be very accurate. 

Missing attendee data
If you scroll further down the page you will see three bars that show how complete your people data is. Have you saved all your attendees’ birthdates, postcodes and emergency contact details?
If you do have registration forms that need to be completed, you can quickly update these on the Missing attendee data page under the People tab. 

4. Know your reports
We have seen above how you can manage and monitor your projects on Upshot. The third element is evidencing the work that you do and we have five incredibly powerful reporting tools to help you do just that. Make sure you familiarise yourself with each of these and how they can help you tell the paint the full picture of your impact. 

The People Report
This is a big filter of your database. You can layer different search criteria to segment and find your attendees. For example:

How many women aged 20-30 have completed first aid courses this year?
Or who are the participants with disabilities who have attended at least 5 sessions in a particular activity?

The Attendance Report
Drill down into engagement patterns by exporting the attendance records for a whole project or a specific activity. You can filter by criteria such as location, participant type or session payments. This is also a great tool to break down volunteering hours. 

The Statistics Report
Time for a quarterly or annual report? Get all the important headline numbers for your work using this tool: the number of attendees, attendances, contact hours, sessions delivered… 
Have a look at the overall numbers for your project or filter it down by activity type, gender, ethnic group and much more. 

The Map
Using the most recent ONS data and a live map rendering, you can see all your attendees and delivery venues laid out by postcode. Use this visual tool to draw conclusions about where your participants are coming from to attend your sessions. You can overlay the map with colour gradients to show powerful information about these areas such as population size and Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) ranking. 

Written reports
To lay the groundwork for your written report, whether this is for funders or your trustees, you can download all the gathered information about an entire project straight into a Word document. Show how you are performing against set targets under each Outcome and the headline stats for each activity. Now you just need to add a bit of narrative and some formatting and presto – report writing made simple. 

Similarly, you can download a written report for each of your attendees. This combines all their personal information, any associated media items, their attendance record and the milestones you have recorded on their timeline. A fantastic basis for a case study or to take along into a 1:1 meeting. 

5. Join the Upshot community
In October 2018, Upshot and the Sports Think Tank hosted The F-Word, a one-day conference at London’s City Hall that explored how we can embrace failure in the third sector. We learned valuable lessons from partner organisations that already do a great job of assessing their impact honestly. But we also looked at what transferable lessons there are in other sectors that successfully face up to their failures, like the aviation industry where the stakes are high, or the fast-moving world of tech start-ups. 

Since then we have been inspired to help organisations using Upshot to get more learning out of the system. We are drafting an exciting system development road map that will see us focusing on the different types of information you collect and allowing you to run more powerful reports. But we also want to galvanise the great expertise we have in our little community and encourage shared learning. To this end we are building the Upshot community – a space to share our experiences in M&E. Watch this space and get in touch to see how you can get involved.