We work with Matter of Focus to help us evaluate the difference we make and see how we can improve. We spoke to Ailsa Cook, Co-Founder and Director of Matter of Focus.
Can you tell us a bit about Matter of Focus and the work you do? 

Matter of Focus is a purpose-led company and B Corp based in Edinburgh set up by myself and co-founder Sarah Morton in 2017. We support public and third sector organisations to understand, evaluate and track the difference they make.  

Sarah and my paths had crossed several times during our long and established careers in academia, where we had both kept one foot firmly planted in the real world of influencing policy and practice. We both really knew that organisations needed better tools to evaluate their own impact, tools that would empower them to learn in real time thereby deepening their understanding of their work, which is what’s required to really make the best difference possible. So that is what we set out to provide. 

Matter of Focus offers a practical and meaningful approach to understanding and evaluating change, along with expert support, and we have developed our own software OutNav to hold the approach and help organisations embed ongoing self-evaluation, learning and improvement. 

How have you worked with Future Pathways so far? 

We’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Future Pathways since 2018. They were aware of my expertise around evaluating personal outcomes and approached Matter of Focus when they were looking for support with their evaluation and research, which they knew was an important part of their work to build the evidence base for a new and pioneering service.  

Initially, we produced a scoping report to really understand the service; looking at the context in which Future Pathways was working, understanding how they make a difference and their progress towards that. This involved speaking to people that used the service as well as staff and other partners. Since then, we provided ongoing support and supervision for Future Pathways’ researcher as they were using OutNav to embed evaluation into their work. 

In 2020 we helped Future Pathways to produce their own impact evaluation, which was a substantial piece of work that mapped out how the service made a difference and brought together lots of feedback, data and evidence from across their work. 

Recently we’ve been working very closely with the Impact and Evaluation Lead to supplement the information they had available to evaluate the impact of Future Pathways. This included running focus groups and workshops and doing some additional analysis. We see ourselves as a learning partner for Future Pathways offering a bit of additional input at key points. 

We recently worked together to develop the Stepping Stones report. What can you tell us about the importance of collaboration when evaluating impact? 

We believe it’s important for organisations to own their own evaluation: that they are clear about what they need to know and what their data is telling them and, critically, that people in the organisation are really involved in making sense of that data because that’s what leads to meaningful and efficient learning and improvement. However, we recognise that evaluating complex relational services is incredibly challenging. We have been able to bring specific expertise, guidance and an approach to evaluating complex interventions. With Stepping Stones, we were also bringing objectivity: people could tell us things they might not tell Future Pathways directly and we can see the service with a bit of distance and fresh perspective. Coupling this external lens with Future Pathways ongoing self-evaluation over quite some time is really powerful 

What did we learn together about Future Pathways impact in Stepping Stones 

This evaluation has cemented understanding of how Future Pathways makes a difference. We can be confident that their genuinely trauma-informed and relational approach to care coordination works and makes a difference to people as, building on previous evaluations, the evidence is now clear 

Additionally, the Stepping Stones report has strengthened understanding about Future Pathways’ role within the wider system and the impact they have had by working closely with Delivery Partners to make sure they’re able to support people effectively. They really understand what they need to do next to shape the system.    

Future Pathwayscommitment to understanding the difference they make and their focus on embedding and sharing ongoing learning is inspirational and exemplary. We’re proud of our learning partnership. 

The Community Brokerage Network (CBN) works alongside Future Pathways to support people to achieve their outcomes.
CBN was established with support from the Scottish Government, Support
in The Right Direction (SiRD) Fund. They provide independent information and support to help people with social care needs choose how to use the resources available in the best way for them.
Brokers at CBN help people identify what support they require, find out information about the options available, and put a plan in place which meets their needs.
Recently, CBN worked alongside Future Pathways to support a client to develop his literacy skills. Michelle, a CBN Broker, tells us about this experience:

My relationship with Future Pathways works well because they work in a person-centred way, and they give us as a partner the time and flexibility to be person-centred too. This aligns with our ethos at the Community Brokerage Network which is about putting people first.

The client’s Support Coordinator, Mary, put me in contact with Cellfield U.K. Mary explained how trauma can affect people and what could be  triggering for the client. We identified that the time and expense of travelling to attend sessions presented a barrier to the client. 

We took the time to explore several options, but Mary also knew when to step back, and trust our experience and expertise as partners. She did not micro-manage.

We arranged for sessions to take place in the client’s local community, and we adapted the length and structure of the programme according to the client’s needs. 

The client initially felt quite reluctant and low in confidence because of their previous experiences of education, so we took a relaxed, informal approach. The client enjoyed the process and attended every session without prompt. This experience seemed to increase the client’s self-belief and open up future opportunities to learn.

I enjoy working with Future Pathways because we have a respectful, open exchange of ideas. My opinion is listened to. 

We feel comfortable to disagree with one another and discuss options. In my
view, the Support Coordinator role is invaluable. The Support Coordinator connects me with the
client and provides information which allows me to do my job more effectively. Having a link with a Support Coordinator makes my interactions with Future Pathways more human. I have a relationship with Future Pathways – it is more than just a referral process or a box-ticking exercise.

Working alongside Future Pathways has taught me the importance of expressing clear boundaries and expectations with clients and partners.

I have gained more patience by working with Future Pathways. Sometimes, we support people with complex needs, so I have learned that it can take longer to put the right support in place. Finally, working with Future Pathways has enabled me to shift my mindset as a practitioner. Previously, I believed that I knew what support people needed. Now, I learn from survivors what support they feel they need. It’s a shift from ‘fixing’ to acknowledging survivors’ autonomy over their support.