Evaluative Research

Between June 2015 and January 2017 I held the position of Widening Participation Evaluation Officer at the University of Leicester exploring the significance of gathering data to assess the impact of widening participation activities and long term sustained programmes. I also undertook research projects in the field of education engaging with youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. This included a research project on school culture funded by Higher Education Funding Council.


Evaluation uses social research methods to systematically assess social intervention programs – it is the process of creating, collecting and analysing qualitative (focus groups and interviews), quantitative (statistical analysis of survey data) and documentary evidence to outline the merit of a given programme and provide useful feedback. What is deemed ‘useful feedback’ depends entirely on the reason why the evaluation was commissioned in the first place – this can range from assessing how the funds were spent to evidencing the impact a given programme had on the participants’ motivation and confidence.

Evaluation of  school outreach
In my role as a Widening Participation Evaluation Officer, I learnt a lot of university outreach is government funded either through each university’s Access Agreement, or directly by HEFCE through grants to university consortia under the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (2015-2016), or, in the most recent edition of the funding, under the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (2016-), which necessitates the production and analysis of data to account for the spending of public money, assess the return on the investment, benchamark the outcomes and provide tangible evidence of the impact of the initiatives on young people and their HE ambitions, motivation and knowledge retention.

School outreach is also a popular avenue for evidencing impact for the purpose of REF in Arts and Humanities subjects, highlighted by the Stern Review recommending that impacts on curricula and teaching (Recommendation 7) should be included more fully to deepen and broaden the definition of impact.

Evaluation of (not only) community archaeology
With evidence-based policy becoming more and more important in higher education (see my work regarding REF on the REF and Impact page) learning the basics of evaluation is a really smart idea. If designed carefully and with data collection executed throughout the duration of the project, evaluation through collecting a mixture of quantitive and qualitative data collected from the participants can be an efficient form of evidencing impact for community outreach run alongside a main research agenda. I am currently working on developing a Fieldwork Project Impact Questionnaire Builder to help others identify stakeholders and design a viable data collection strategy to provide ammo with which to obtain further funding, or evidence the impact of your fieldwork beyond the production of more archaeological data.

My skills:

  • Analysing statistical data: MS Excel Vlookup, Pivot Tables, Fuzzy Matching
  • Designing and using questionnaires in research
  • Using focus groups in research
  • Using interviews in research
  • Analysing qualitative data using NVivo software

  • Visualisign data using Tableau software

My work

I specialised in evaluating activities engaging with the pre-16 age group, primarily designing the data collection and evaluating activities run by the University of Leicester School and College Services. The work also involved evaluating access to professions outreach (for medicine and law), mature students outreach, activities for looked after children and providing reports for the purpose of securing funding from external organisations such as banks. My work also involved demographic analysis of both current university student population and outreach participants, including analyses postcode derived data metrics such as POLAR and IMD classifications. I also supported the development of evaluation plans for one-off activities and outreach programmes run by academic departments at the University of Leicester.

I took part in a HEFCE funded research project into GCSE attainment, supported the evaluation of REACH partnership events and participated in the NEON Impact Working Group. It was challenging to work on a range of research projects across different academic departments and in partnership with other universities, FE Colleges and local schools. You can find out about the different projects I was involved in below.

  • A Sense of Place - Heritage at your Doorstep

    The programme is run by the Outreach Officer at the School of Archaeology and ancient History, University of Leicester and aims to make Britain’s more remote past accessible and relevant to children and young people from a wide range of BME/Widening Participation backgrounds. A substantial part of the programme consists of a visit to excavations in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire. I am overseeing the development of the evaluation strategy for the project and designing the appropriate participant questionnaire to address the key premise of the project – how young people from ethnic minorities develop a sense of belonging in the UK and how the experience of archaeological fieldwork helps with the development of such ‘a sense of place’.

  • Discovering Psychology

    The programme seeks to investigate the reasons why males are underrepresented among psychology undergraduates and seeks to tackle common misconceptions about studying psychology that might dissuade boys from applying for a psychology degree. In collaboration with the principal investigators I developed the research questionnaire to identify the misconceptions about psychology at university level. I also supported the principal investigator in developing questions for the focus group research.

  • Sprint Programme

    The project is run by the Career Development Service and is aimed at enhancing the career prospects and motivation of young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. In collaboration with the project organisers, I develop the baseline and outcome evaluation. I am also developing and carrying the focus group research aiming at collecting in-depth stories of how the programme is impacting the participants.

    The project’s website

  • REACH Partnership

    REACH is an Educational organisation incorporating local universities and FE Colleges in Leicester and Leicestershire that supports the progression of under-represented groups into Higher Education. My involvement with the partnership consists of designing evaluations and analysing the data from the partnership’s collaborative events. I will also be part of the team working on the evaluation of the partnership’s overall work towards the end of 2016.


  • GCSE Attainment Project

    This HEFCE funded project aims to understand why certain schools and colleges, despite having large numbers of disadvantaged learners, have a higher level of participation in higher education than predicted by their GCSE attainment. I am representing the University of Leicester in a research team that brings together researchers from the University of Kent, University of Manchester and education specialists, including school governors.

    The project’s website.

If you are planning an outreach programme alongside your excavation project or a research project, in the blog section I will be posting ideas about how to collect, analyse and present data to support your evaluation. I  will be posting my reflections in the blog too. It would be great to get into a conversation with you and hear your opinions!