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Our outcomes review: updating our Theory of Change

Our outcomes review: updating our Theory of Change

We decided to update our Theory of Change outcomes this year to ensure they’re in keeping with latest research, relevant for young people and in line with our mission to help them make more confident and informed decisions.

In this blog, our Impact Manager Hannah talks about why we decided now was right time and how we went about making that change.

What is a Theory of Change?

It’s a method that explains how an intervention is expected to lead to a specific change. It’s a way of showing how you’ll achieve the desired impact and gives you things to track to measure its success. Charities use them to stay focused on their mission and to provide a way of understanding and proving the impact of the work the charity does.

What did we track before?

We developed our original Theory of Change back in 2015 working with external impact management consultants.

We defined intermediate outcomes as outcomes that typically reflect changes in knowledge, attitudes, behaviour, or conditions that are expected to contribute to the desired long-term impact. In our case, that’s confident and informed decision making. They represent a meaningful step towards achieving the desired end goal or final outcome

The intermediate outcomes that support the development of skills, networks, and knowledge include:

  • Social capital: knowing people to turn to for advice or support
  • Human capital: learning specific knowledge and skills
  • Coping: dealing with difficulties in a positive way
  • Hope: setting specific goals and having the flexibility and motivation to achieve them
  • Growth mindset: believing your abilities can be developed through hard work
  • Self-efficacy: having confidence and knowing your strengths

Since then, we’ve analysed how our mentees are doing based on progress towards these outcomes.

Why did we decide to change?

Since implementing our first Theory of Change we’ve learned a lot, engaged with other organisations using similar methods, and discovered some important things:

  1. Our programmes consistently provide mentees with someone experienced they can turn to for advice and support, increasing their social capital
  2. Mentoring consistently helps mentees gain knowledge about the skills and qualifications they need to reach their goals, boosting their confidence and human capital
  3. While some mentees show improvements in their hope, coping, self-efficacy, and growth mindset, others don’t. Despite analysis, we can’t identify why this is, so it’s hard for us to influence it through programme design

Given all the changes and growth we’ve experienced in the past five years, we felt it was time to review our key Theory of Change outcomes to ensure they’re still relevant and aligned with our mission.

We firmly believe in our mission of empowering young people to make confident and informed decisions, and many mentees have shared that mentoring has played a significant role in shaping their choices. We wanted to delve deeper into the skills, knowledge, and behaviours that young people need to make these decisions confidently. By comparing our findings with what we learned in 2015, we aimed to identify how our mentoring can make a positive impact.

How did we go about changing it?

To gather the very latest evidence, we conducted an extensive literature review. We focused on research related to education and career decision-making among young people in the UK.

Since our original Theory of Change research in 2015, the evidence base in our context has grown, meaning this time we were able to evaluate with more relevant research. We found valuable insights from organisations like The Careers & Enterprise Company, The Behavioural Insights Team, CFE Research, Education and Employers, and the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Academic research on decision-making, social capital, and Cognitive Information Processing theory also provided useful perspectives.

We also analysed our own data in greater detail. Thanks to our quality and impact framework, we collected a wealth of information from young people at critical decision-making moments. In addition to reviewing reports from the external impact management consultants and DataDive, we carefully examined qualitative data from 628 mentees who participated in Brightside programmes during the 2021/22 academic year. Their open-text survey responses helped us understand the role their mentors played in supporting their confidence in decision-making.

What we learned

Social capital: As expected, the research showed that having access to someone with relevant experience is crucial for confident decision making. Young people prefer personal encounters over static information, which inspire and interest them more, leading to greater engagement and a desire to learn more.

Conclusion: The mentor themselves is the most important and powerful source of social capital we can provide to mentees. Ensuring we deliver relevant social capital becomes a measure of programme quality, not an outcome.

Human capital: We found that two types of knowledge are essential for confident decision making: specific knowledge about different career paths, the job market, and available opportunities, as well as self-knowledge (understanding your own interests, needs, strengths, and aspirations).

Conclusion: Our current definition and measurement of human capital is too broad. We need a more specific approach to measure knowledge gain, including self-knowledge, which we currently address implicitly without actively tracking its growth in mentees.

Self-efficacy: We discovered that different types of self-efficacy exist, and they can be measured in various ways. Low career decision-making self-efficacy correlates with higher levels of career indecision and lack of confidence, especially among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Conclusion: Self-efficacy represents a specific way to measure confidence, a crucial aspect of our mission. However, we need a more specific and relevant definition and measurement approach. Using career decision-making self-efficacy as a primary outcome measure would better align with Brightside’s objectives.

The new Theory of Change

We’re thrilled to have completed this outcomes review, responding to the needs expressed by our team, partners, and mentees. It’s been a fascinating and challenging journey that has reaffirmed the incredible impact mentoring can have.

We’ll be sharing our new Theory of Change on our website this month and posting another blog explaining how we chose our new outcomes and how we’ll be measuring them going forward.

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