Outcomes Engine has flow-on effects for the grants team at Wannon Water

Wannon Water is an urban water corporation responsible for water and sewerage in Australia’s south-west.

Annie Grundy
Annie Grundy, Communications & Engagement Advisor, Wannon Water

Each year, Wannon Water offers grants to community groups, schools and international aid programs under its Ripple Effect program. In 2022, it supported 17 schools and organisations who received a total of $44,000 (around £23,000).

The grants team is small, which means thorough analysis of grants data has historically been very difficult. As Wannon Water’s communications and engagement advisor, Annie Grundy, put it, “We don’t have the resources to go really deep into outcomes”.

That changed in March this year, when Annie contacted the SmartyGrants chief impact officer, Jen Riley, to see how the SmartyGrants Outcomes Engine could help Wannon Water track its outcomes.

The Outcomes Engine is software that helps you answer the perennial question, “Did our grants make a difference?”

On reviewing the corporation’s granting guidelines, Jen showed how Wannon Water’s strategic priorities fitted neatly into the “domains” section of the SmartyGrants outcomes framework, as shown in Figure 1, below.

Mapping shot
Figure 1: Wannon Water’s strategic priorities translated into the SmartyGrants Outcomes Framework

In a series of online meetings, Jen and Annie came up with a list of outcome statements for each of the domains. Each outcome starts with “increased”, “improved” or “reduced”, pinpointing what the corporation hopes will change as a result of its investment.

The next step was coming up with metrics for each of the outcomes – that is, numeric indicators that track progress towards an outcome. Annie chose to go with one metric per outcome to keep things simple.

Once the outcome statements were signed off by the team at Wannon Water, the framework was ready to be uploaded into the Outcomes Engine.

SmartyGrants and the Outcomes Engine work together seamlessly to generate application forms that highlight Wannon Water’s intended outcomes and each applicant’s intended outcomes. Figure 2, below, shows Wannon Water’s application form using the default Outcomes Engine standard sections.

Form screenshot
Figure 2: An excerpt from Wannon Water's application form

In the grant round that opened in April 2022, a total of 17 projects were successful in attracting funding, receiving grants ranging from $1000 (~£500) to $6500 (~£3200). Figure 3, below, shows the number of successful applicants for each intended outcome.

Figure 3: The number of projects funded by Wannon Water for each intended outcome

Annie Grundy said the Outcomes Engine’s ability to make sense of data and present it visually is a game-changer.

“I love this graph! [Figure 3]. It tells a story across the whole of the program and across all the applications. This really valuable for the assessment process, because towards the end of the assessment process you look at the overall picture and this is a way to understand the spread. We can check against our intentions and see if we are missing anything, or if the balance is not what we wanted, and make adjustments.”

Figure 4, below, shows the metrics that have been applied across the Ripple Effect program, and it highlights the potential collective impact of the $44,000 (approximately £23,000) investment from Wannon Water.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Summary of grantmaker outcome, grantmaker metric and targets across the Ripple Effect program for 2022

The projects will be acquitted in May 2023, but already Annie and her team feel they have more data at their fingertips than ever before.

“I liked seeing how the really broad outcomes of our program have been broken into the domains and outcomes and layered so we see data and aggregate quickly. Before it would have come through in massive reams of text and paragraphs that we would have to go through to come up with a table like this [Figure 4], and this is the work that never gets done.”

So what advice would Annie give to grantmakers thinking about using the Outcome Engine?

“Get started! There is no one who could not benefit. The Outcomes Engine can be used for all grants, not just the large grants,” she said.

“Take up the offer of free support, don’t muddle through on your own!

“Having access to Jen was gold. Jen was able to simplify the process, which I initially thought was so complex. Jen helped us visualise what we wanted to find out about our grants.

“It was great that we worked with Alex [Alex McMillan, manager of SmartyGrants managed services] and Jen for the ‘real work’ – they were there to help us work through things, like build the outcomes framework with us, rather than just handing us a video. The approach was ‘Let’s build together’ and that is what has made it work well.”

Ask Jen more about outcomes and evaluation

SmartyGrants’ chief impact officer Jen Riley has more than 20 years’ experience in the social sector, having worked with government and large not-for-profits of all kinds in that time, and been part of leading firm Clear Horizon Consulting. She’s a specialist in social sector change with skills in strategic planning, program, and product design and management. If you’ve got a pressing question about evaluation and outcomes measurement, ask here! You'll find the answers on the SmartyGrants forum (available to SmartyGrants users)