Our Impact - 2017 Impact Evaluation
Our annual survey in 2017 become part of a larger impact evaluation. With support from a LotteryWest grant Befriend engaged Clear Horizon Consulting to conduct a whole-organisation evaluation.
Befriend has supported over 500 community-based Social Network events since our inception in 2010, with an average attendance of 200 people per month. Our broader reach in the community is extensive, with over 6,000 Befriend members receiving regular newsletters and over 3,000 Facebook followers.
We recently engaged in an evaluation process to help us understand how Befriend is helping to create a stronger, more connected and inclusive community. First, we spoke with a selection of our members, volunteers, and partners to identify common themes in their experiences with Befriend. Then we created a survey based on these themes to hear from our broader membership.
Who are our members?
What were the main themes?
- Self-empowerment and personal growth
- Increased confidence
- Increased social connections
- Sense of social inclusion
- Reduced feelings of isolation
- Improved quality of friendships
- Sense of belonging
- High number of options regarding events
Is Befriend influencing community behaviours and attitudes?
In a nutshell, yes. The evaluation found that Befriend has been successful in reducing social isolation by assisting people to build more inclusive social connections, and is thereby influencing community attitudes and behaviours towards inclusivity overall.
The majority of our members said they enjoyed the events they attended, and that their social connections had increased. Many had made new friends and for a few, those friendships had extended beyond a Befriend events. Attending our events made members feel more comfortable in approaching and interacting with others and some felt a greater sense of independence. People with a disability or mental ill-health particularly valued the opportunity to interact with a range of different people outside their usual support circle.
The academic literature suggests a causal link between the quantity and quality of a persons’ social connections and improved well-being. Due to the increased social connections Befriend members have formed, it is likely that this has led to an improved sense of well-being overall.
Many people said that they have more inclusive attitudes and behaviours because of their involvement in Befriend. They reported being more active in engaging people during social interactions and feeling more comfortable interacting with people who were different from themselves. As a result, they feel more socially included in their own lives. Members also spoke of how Befriend accepted them for “who they were”, resulting in an increased sense of belonging.
In the last two years, Befriend has delivered professional development to 16 community services organisations. Staff who attended these activities said that they had gained greater knowledge, skills and confidence to support the people they work with to build social connections and natural relationships. For some, this had resulted in them being supportive of activities that promote more inclusive social connections outside typical support offerings. In addition, some staff saw value in Befriend for themselves and became active individual members.
How could Befriend be improved?
More events in more places
Members consistently suggested that more events in more places would significantly reduce barriers to involvement. Befriend has recently developed a partnership model working with local councils to support the extension of our Social Network across their area. Growth in these partnerships will address this barrier. Additionally, we will continue our work on attracting and retaining event hosts.
A small number of members indicated that they had a reduced sense of isolation, despite never having attended an event. While the reasons for this unknown, one theory is that receiving the regular Befriend communications was sufficient to reduce isolation. We will investigate this further to ensure these members continue to receive value from Befriend.
Based on the evidence, Befriend’s professional development service offering has the potential to positively influence the behaviours and attitudes of many people working in the community services sector. The reach is likely to be extensive and outcomes very positive. We will continue to develop our professional development service offering based on the evidence and needs of the sector.