LEAP stands for Learning Evaluation and Planning. As the name implies, it is a learning based planning and evaluation framework. It supports good practice when we are working together to improve the quality of community life.
It helps us to identify the difference we hope to make; to plan more effectively; to work in partnership with each other and members of the community and to learn and apply the lessons from our experience.
The LEAP framework can be used in different contexts; by people working in different sectors and disciplines and at project, programme and policy level.
The LEAP framework is a principled approach to change that is built around a 5 step planning and evaluation cycle.
LEAP is based on the following 4 simple but important principles:
The LEAP framework makes an important distinction between planning which is based on a response to need and planning which is based on making use of available resources.
Need-led planning – starts by specifying problems or issues. It builds a plan which deploys resources to respond effectively to those needs.
Need led planning looks like this:
By contrast, resource led planning starts from an assessment of the resources that are available, and how these will be used. There is no clear reference to the issues we hope to address.
Resource led planning looks like this:
A resource led approach can make it less likely that what is done will be responsive to need. LEAP describes how a more need-led approach can be developed.
LEAP makes an important distinction between outcome-focused planning and evaluation, and output-focused planning and evaluation.
Outcomes are the changes we hope we will make. Outcome focused planning is therefore about planning for change and evaluation is the process of assessing whether we have successfully made a difference.
Outputs are actions we take. Output focused planning and evaluation is therefore about action planning and reviewing our activity.
We need to think about outcomes and outputs. But in the LEAP approach, action-planning is guided by an understanding of what difference we hope to make, and evaluation is about reviewing whether our action made a difference.
LEAP is a participatory planning and evaluation framework. This is an approach to planning and evaluation where we involve all those who have an interest in or will be affected by the changes we hope to make.
It is based on the understanding that partnership working is essential as the issues that communities face are often complex and cannot be addressed by any one sector or agency. Communities should, therefore, be actively involved in all stages of planning and evaluation.
Community involvement improves the chances of bringing about meaningful and sustainable change.
The LEAP framework emphasises the importance of self-evaluation as part of everyday practice, and as an important learning and development tool to inform future practice, and to continually improve our effectiveness and efficiency.
LEAP also highlights the learning that results from working together on community issues.
Participatory planning and evaluation should be a process that supports community members to learn about and influence their circumstances. It is an opportunity for agencies to learn from working with each other and with communities they aim to support.
In this section we explore the LEAP Planning and evaluation cycle where we put the LEAP approach in to action.
Before we begin to think about planning and evaluation it is important to have considered exactly what issues we are responding to – our starting point is the need that we have identified.
Effective planning starts from a clear understanding and statement of the need or issue that is to be addressed.
The issues that communities face are often complex and multi-dimensional (for example poor health can be related to a complex mix of factors such as poverty, housing and life-style choices).
It is important to take time to understand the situation and carefully define the problem if we are to act effectively.
When planning, we should consider the following questions:
Being clear about the answers to these questions helps to improve our understanding of need and the process of change.
If we aren’t clear why we are acting it will be difficult to be effective.
It is important that coming to a clear understanding of the need we are responding to is a shared process. Policy makers, agencies and communities all have a stake in addressing community issues. But there will often be different ideas about need. To respond effectively, we should plan and act in partnership.
Working in partnership means overcoming barriers that prevent excluded groups from contributing to the process.
The contribution of communities is critical to success. Involving all stakeholders helps us to learn about need from different perspectives and makes it more likely that we can act effectively. Understanding need can be empowering in itself.
Once the needs and/or problems have been identified, we should decide what needs to change or what outcomes we hope to see as a result of any intervention we make.
The LEAP framework supports us to plan for change. Agreeing outcomes is therefore a critical first step in the planning process. In step 1 we answer the question: What difference should out actions make?
LEAP calls this visioning the outcomes. Visioning outcomes is a process of describing the change we hope to see and breaking this down into specific outcome statements.
Too often planning and evaluation focuses only on outputs – in other words simply looking at what has been done. Outputs are important but only in so far as they lead to the outcomes that are needed.
Evaluation should explore the relationship between outcomes and outputs assessing whether the action we’ve taken has produced the desired effects
Agreeing outcomes at the beginning of the planning process means we can make more informed decisions about what to do (the outputs).
It is important that all stakeholders are involved in deciding and agreeing outcomes. It can be relatively easy to agree on “the need” but there may be very different ideas of what needs to change.
Visioning outcomes should focus on the experience and aspiration of all stakeholders. The people who are intended to benefit from change should be involved in deciding the purpose and direction of what we do. This means ensuring we involve people who are often excluded from taking part in decision-making.
Talking about and agreeing what needs to change can be a significant learning experience for all involved. We are introduced to new perspectives and must understand differences in order to move forward. This can and should be a particularly empowering experience for community participants and agencies alike.
In summary at step 1 we should:
Working with outcomes from the start allows us to learn as much as possible about the process of change and to capture that learning as we go along.
Step 1 emphasises the importance of agreeing a vision of change. Step 2 asks how will we know we’ve done it – how will we measure success?
To know if we’ve been successful we need to be able to measure and evidence change - we need to identify outcome indicators. Outcome indicators allow us to assess how effective our actions have been in producing the outcomes we planned. Using indicators helps us to know if change has taken place
Outcome indicators may be straightforward and easy to measure or more complex depending on the type of information we are looking for. Sometimes one indicator may be all that is necessary for clear explanation. Sometimes several indicators may be needed.
Sometimes we can use direct measures (e.g. the price of goods in a food co-op relative to other food outlets) but often we need to use more general indicators (e.g. a reduction in anti-depressant prescriptions is an indicator that there is less stress in the population).
We also need to think about measuring change by gathering quantitative evidence (e.g. facts and figures) and more qualitative evidence (e.g. people’s own opinion and experience of what has changed or improved)
We need to be selective about the indicators we choose to make evaluation assessment more manageable.
Some indicators will provide evidence on several outcomes. Indicators should define the evidence that will be collected. Evidence may be obtained from a variety of sources and using three main methods:
Once we have agreed our indicators, we should conduct a baseline study. This simply means gathering evidence that tells us where things stand at the beginning of the process, using the indicators that have been chosen.
Baseline information is needed so that when we collect the evidence at a later stage, we will know what has changed.
It is vital that all stakeholders agree on the indicators to be used to ensure that there is real community involvement in deciding what success will look like and how it will be evaluated. The indicators chosen must measure what is important to all those involved.
Developing outcome indicators as part of the planning process allows us to use evaluation as a learning tool. We can learn as we go along and adjust what we are doing if need be.
In summary, at step 2: Stakeholders should identify and agree on indictors that will measure whether or not the outcomes identified in step 1 are achieved; conduct a baseline study; and decide how to build evidence collection into everyday practice and procedure.
Step 3 is about working out a plan of action that will bring about the outcomes we identified in Step 1. LEAP identifies three components of action-planning that should be considered.
We need to think about the processes or methods we will use, the inputs or resources we will need, and our outputs - what we will actually do. Knowing what we want to do doesn’t necessarily mean we can do it. We need to know if our plan is feasible.
The processes we will use, the inputs we will need, and the action that we will take are all linked and inter-dependent. Our evaluation needs make clear the relationship between all 3 components and the outcomes which result.
We need to be clear about the means and methods we will use to bring about change. These are called the processes. Examples include:
We need to specify the actual things that will be done to bring about change. This is called identifying outputs.
We need to identify the resources we need and who will provide them. These resources are called the inputs. All stakeholders can contribute a wide range of resources including:
In step 1 we identified the changes we hope to see – the intended outcomes. It is essential that we have thought carefully about how our action-plan will achieve such changes. We should be able to explain a simple theory of how it should work.
In summary at step 3 we develop our action plan. We should think about what resources we will need – our input; what methods or processes we will use and the action that we will take – our outputs and determine whether we have a feasible action plan that will allow us to achieve the changes we hope to see.
Remember outputs are the actions we take in order to achieve the outcomes that are needed.
Step 4 is about keeping a close eye on our action-plan. If we don’t take all the steps we identified it is likely that we won’t achieve the intended outcomes
To do this we need to identify indicators that will tell us whether the activities we planned were carried out in the manner intended.
We should set specific targets for when, where and how we will undertake the activities we plan. The indicators should give us information which helps us to see if we have met our targets.
We will also want to know whether our approach was efficient and equitable – did we use more or fewer resources than necessary; did we involve everyone who should have been involved. We need to agree on how we will report to one another and establish a way of working that ensures that all our activities are open to scrutiny by others.
In summary, at step 4 we should:
Step 5 is about evaluation; learning and planning ahead. Evaluation involves assessing progress and achievements to determine whether or not the outcomes were achieved.
Using the LEAP framework is about making a commitment to learning from evaluation. Too often evaluation is something that happens only at the end of a project and is about accountability and value for money. These things are important but evaluation should tell us about the “how” and “why” of change if we are to learn about what works and apply it to our work.
Using the indicators agreed in step 2, evidence should have been gathered as we went along. We can use this evidence to assess how far the inputs, processes and outputs led to the outcomes planned at step 1.
Evaluation should be a tool we use throughout any project or programme. It allows us to constantly question what is being done and obtain information and feedback on what is and is not working, and on what could be done better.
Using the learning from evaluation should be a normal part of the work we do and not just a role for external evaluators.
Evaluation should involve all stakeholders and should be a learning and empowering experience. Participants should be responsible for defining the evaluation questions and the indicators of success developed at step 2.
Evaluation is not necessarily about proving that we achieved all the outcomes we hope for or justifying why we did not. The goals of evaluation should be to identify and celebrate success and to provide information for improvement and learning.
Learning from evaluation should allow us to answer the question.
Which takes us back to step 1.