“We keep working to have a positive effect on social entrepreneurs’ work”
Interview with Carola Schwank on epNetwork’s evaluation
In 2017, Siemens Stiftung commissioned CEval, an independent institute to carry out an evaluation of empowering people. Network (epNetwork), to analyze their achievement and objectives. In this interview, Carola Schwank, Head of Unit Empowering People Network (EPN)/Development Cooperation at Siemens Stiftung, talks about the key findings of the evaluation and their strategy.
The epNetwork was founded in 2014. What was the motivation to carry out this evaluation?
At Siemens Stiftung, we strive for the highest efficiency when designing our approach and measurements. We plan and implement all of our projects on the basis of the ‘‘I-O-O-I’’ principle (input – output – outcome – impact) and we know this required us to conduct regular impact assessments. Even though we had already carried out several internal analyzes on the empowering people. Network’s activities, we felt it is about time to conduct a first of its kind comprehensive evaluation.
Did the timing play a strategic role then? If so, which one?
Yes, it did. Since its foundation in 2014, the epNetwork has grown to around 90 enterprises today. Over the years, the principal objective of the network has been refined, new formats have been developed, and the network management has been optimized. So, we asked ourselves whether we were still on the right track to achieve the goals that we set ourselves. Therefore, we decided to have a professional analysis done before taking the next steps.
How was the analysis carried out? Which method(s) did you use?
First of all, we selected an appropriate evaluation partner, CEval. Together, we developed a complex analysis model to examine individual effects. We were impressed by the comprehensive mix of methods. For example; the qualitative analysis consisted of various formats such as expert interviews, focus group discussions and case studies.
What formats did you examine?
We wanted to have all our formats scrutinized. The challenge was to do justice to all our different services and formats. To name a few examples, we examined the efficiency of the empowering people. Workshop, an annual global event meant for founders and employees of member organizations. Every year, we offer several regional trainings called empowering people. Onsite for local member organizations. Further activities to be assessed were the empowering people. Expert Service which brings expert volunteers to member organizations or the Self-Assessment Manual for Social Entrepreneurs (SAMforSE) that facilitates self-analysis. We also wanted to evaluate the impact of our communication channels like our website, newsletter, blog as well as our social media channels.
Compared to the number of formats, you must have received a lot of detailed information. What are the key findings?
First of all, the most important result is the clear confirmation of the epNetwork’s contribution to improve the supply situation on site. This means we are actually enhancing people’s prospects and living conditions, which is the network’s main goal. We are happy and proud about that! Another major finding is that individual support measures such as personal coaching and the epExpert service show very positive results. We are less surprised by the outcome that face-to-face training is far superior to online formats in terms of added value.
Were there any completely unexpected results?
I wouldn’t call it a totally unexpected outcome, but we are very happy to find out that 92 percent of the participants apply the knowledge they gained during our training. I was also pleased that the positive and encouraging atmosphere as well as the personal support of the network members was perceived as highly important among network benefits – I believe these facts are far too often neglected! Especially young social entrepreneurs and start-up founders need a lot of encouragement and reassurance from peers in the network which includes all of us from the epNetwork team.
Have you already derived initial measures from the results?
Yes. The positive results motivated us to tackle some points immediately. For example, we will strengthen individual capacity building measures and abstain from our own virtual services. In addition, we will further expand personal support measures. For this purpose, we have assigned key account functions within the team.
What strategic influence do the evaluation results have on future activities? What’s the prospect?
Taking the evaluation results as a basis, we have developed a mid-term strategy with the motto ’epNetwork2020’. We will incorporate our high-quality work into a special epNetwork support program to help members even more effectively. But we are also aware of the fact that the intense support, which we’re currently offering and intending to optimize, can only be provided for a limited number of carefully selected members. To give an example, for the ’epNetwork2020’, we will focus on the potential of our network members in terms of economic sustainability and perspectives they offer to their close environment. Further criteria would be the level of commitment from the management and teams.
As the epNetwork team, what do you wish for the future?
We can answer this in one short sentence: We would like to keep having a verifiable positive effect on social entrepreneurs’ work that improves daily lives!
The evaluation can be downloaded here.