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We partnered with the NSW Government to rethink the way it evaluates regional grants

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The Regional Programs and Partnerships Branch of the Department of Regional NSW (DRNSW) delivers and evaluates an overall grant portfolio worth about $4 billion to make regional NSW a better place in which to live, work, play and invest. The Regional Programs and Partnerships Evaluation Team oversees the monitoring and evaluation of these programs.

The evaluation team needed to adapt to respond to a growing work program

In the context of the large number and value of grants disbursed through DRNSW, the Regional Programs and Partnerships Evaluation Team identified challenges using its current approach:

  • Some grant programs realised diverse benefits at different times.
  • There were more and higher value grant programs due for evaluation, resulting in a need to re-think the resourcing model and the team’s capacity.
  • There was fatigue amongst grantees in responding to data requests and engagement for evaluations.
  • There was growing demand to understand the programs’ strategic contributions to state-wide or region-wide outcomes.
  • There was an increasing need to draw insights from existing programs to inform the design of future programs in an appropriate, effective and efficient manner.

In this climate, the Regional Programs and Partnerships Evaluation Team sought to gain more insights from programs and inform their future design through a new evaluation approach. This would include refreshing the program monitoring and evaluation strategy, outcomes framework and indicator bank.

It sought to co-design the new approach with Nous.

We collaborated closely to develop a novel approach to evaluation in NSW

To co-develop the new evaluation approach, we engaged broadly with DRNSW internal stakeholders to understand its direction and challenges. We then worked closely with the Evaluation Team through five collaborative sessions to develop, test and refine the material.

We consequently developed and proposed a three-tiered approach to evaluate programs and projects based on relevant priorities:

  1. a monitoring and evaluation strategy, which provided guidance on how to conduct outcome evaluations
  2. a targeted outcomes framework, which expanded outcomes for the economic, social, and resilience and recovery categories and refined the outcomes that underpinned all programs
  3. an indicator bank with an improved user interface that incorporated external data sources for macro-level evaluations and streamlined indicators available through grantee reporting for meso- and micro-evaluations.

The new approach will provide strategic insights across three tiers

Graphic displaying the three tiered evaluation approach
Graphic displaying the three tiered evaluation approach

Our report offered a rationale for embracing the new approach and key steps to implement our suggested changes. Each rationale helped to win stakeholder support.

What you can learn from this project

There is a growing imperative to assess the impact of collective public investment on broader priorities and outcomes.

Effective and consistent data management is critical to enable a more flexible approach to evaluation.

A well-run, collaborative strategy development process leads to a higher-quality output that has buy-in from those who will implement the strategy.