Following our work on the initial Social Business Wales Programme, HJA (with Rosemarie Davies Consulting) was appointed to undertake three phases of evaluation of the Social Business Wales New Starts (SBWNS) programme.
SBWNS seeks to support the set-up, incorporation and growth of new social businesses across Wales to help establish the next generation of businesses that are owned and controlled by the communities they serve, earning profits that can be reinvested in those communities and creating much needed jobs. It is the ‘sister’ programme to Social Business Wales. Both programmes are managed by Cwmpas (formerly Wales Co-operative Centre) and are targeted specifically at the social economy. The project has been developed in recognition of the specific support that social businesses need in order to start trading.
The aim for the Phase 1 formative evaluation was to:
- Ensure that the business cases and delivery plans associated with the operations were based on sound assumptions and will deliver the anticipated outcomes and impacts;
- Ensure that the systems allow efficient and effective delivery of the project and provide a firm basis through which data can be collected for evaluation purposes; and
- To develop methods and processes to capture how the operations activities align and contribute towards the Future Generations Act.
The evaluation assessed the rationale and strategic fit of the programme, the logic chain and theory of change, a process review, social outcomes, a comparison with project case studies and concluded by making recommendations for further improvement of the programme.
The Phase 2 evaluation set out to provide a mid-term update on progress to date. This included an assessment of:
- The extent to which the operation was delivering the activities, outputs and outcomes identified in the logic model developed in Phase 1, including delivery and promotion of the Cross Cutting Themes (CCT);
- The extent to which the operation identified and reached its target clients;
- The impact the operation on the sector in Wales;
- How the operation performed against the delivery of CCT aims, objectives and indicators, as well as CCT case (project) related indicators, including what worked well/what didn’t work, problems identified and how these were addressed;
- Investigating how well the operation linked with other similar or complementary operations within the sector (including those delivered as a part of the Business Wales family);
- Investigating how well the operation promoted and provided its services through the medium of Welsh where appropriate;
- The extent to which operation has contributed to the goals of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.
Overall, the evaluation found strongly positive evidence regarding the SBWNS operations with only minor areas for improvement. Output indicators were found to be nearly all ahead of target. This was particularly positive given the very challenging delivery and economic context created by the Covid- 19 pandemic. The pandemic had a clear impact on enquiry levels, led to a major change to the delivery model (to a virtual approach), and has in general had a more negative than positive impact on client businesses.
Phase 3 of the evaluation will assess the final impact of the program against the outcomes and impacts anticipated and set out at the start of the project.