How Playgroup SA is using impact measurement to improve early childhood development

Parents, families and carers are a child’s most important teachers in the early years of development. The first five years help shape a child’s long-term development, their success, health and wellbeing. And while most Australian children under five years-old are on-track for a healthy start, one in five are developmentally vulnerable.

That’s why Playgroup SA’s work is so important. The growing not-for-profit organization supports children’s development by working closely with them, their parents, and the wider community. Supporting over 2,000 families and 190 playgroups across South Australia, Playgroup SA offers practical professional advice, training and development to families and communities. 

“The key mechanisms that we focus on to support people is playgroup models,” explains Craig Bradbrook, Playgroup SA’s Chief Executive Officer. “We have universal development models, early intervention, and more intensive family supports. We support volunteers on the ground to run their playgroups and we provide infrastructure support to playgroups, which are funded. And we also have paid facilitators who run the playgroups.”

The uniting vision of these models is to make sure all children in the state are developmentally on-track. The beauty of this, explains Craig, is that it’s a measurable vision thanks to a nationwide census conducted every three years.

“The Australian Early Development Census measures how children are developing, and it looks at 99% of kids across Australia every three years,” he says. 

Yet measuring impact hasn’t been a straightforward journey for Playgroup SA. That’s why the organization turned to ESG and social impact software, Socialsuite. The simple and affordable reporting platform has helped Playgroup SA streamline its data collection and management process - and put impact measurement at its team’s fingertips.

Socialsuite is really powerful from a data visualisation perspective and it’s opened up wonderful opportunities for us as an organisation.

Craig Bradbrook, CEO
Playgroup SA
Craig Bradbrook, CEO
Playgroups in Regional & Remote South Australia
Playgroups in Metropolitan Adelaide
Enrolled families

Achieving outcomes on the ground

In the last 10-15 years, funding bodies and governments have started funding projects based on outcomes rather than outputs. A shift that’s been challenging to manage for many not-for-profit organizations. 

“My role focuses on demonstrating that we’re achieving outcomes on the ground. We started with a Theory of Change and strategy for measurement. Then we developed an outcome survey that gave us some rich information about the different challenges our families were facing. But we also needed a tool that would help us measure the outcomes of our programs.”

Playgroup SA was looking for a fit for purpose model that provided a valid way to measure impact, backed by research. Craig reviewed over 50 tools and landed on the Parental Efficacy and Empowerment Measure (PEEM). And while he found this useful, what he also needed was a mechanism that would allow the organization to capture data and run reports. They were using SurveyMonkey and Excel spreadsheets which presented clear limitations for the organization.

“We need specific, quality data to be able to look at a person's evolution across several different measures and record their journey. So we must ensure that our pre, mid, and post survey is filled out by the same person each time,” says Craig. 
“With SurveyMonkey you don’t know who’s answering the questions. And pulling together Excel documents to analyse results was just painful.”

Transforming data into opportunity

Craig was looking for three key things in an impact measurement software. He wanted to be able to measure individual outcomes and scale this up at a program level - plus he needed a tool that would allow him to visualize playgroups and relevant data in real-time on a map. 

“Socialsuite allows us to do that at every playgroup, and at a local government area level as well. And I can filter and visualize results for each suburb or council area at the click of a button.”

Craig says Socialsuite has created consistency in how they measure outcomes across all of the organization’s playgroups – which brings significant benefits to its groups. For instance, when a volunteer coordinator was to apply for a local grant, Craig’s team can give them a report on the outcomes of their playgroup quickly and easily – helping them secure vital funding.

“Socialsuite it really powerful from a data visualization perspective and it’s opened up wonderful opportunities for us as an organization.”

Getting organization-wide buy-in

When it comes to starting an impact measurement journey, Craig recommends getting buy-in from your board and executives. 

“You might have someone working in quality or programme quality who wants to start looking at impact, but you're going to have to get your chief executive on board to get it going.”

He also suggests organizations get clarity about their mission, vision, and theory of change – and what they are going to measure.

“Clarify who you are as an organization, what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. An audit of your existing systems, what you’re already measuring and what you contractually should be measuring is also helpful.”

Organizations should also ask beneficiaries what they’re looking for and what change they want to see. But the most important step, Craig says, is to get started.

“Sometimes the hardest thing is taking that first step. But once we do, we’ll be jogging in no time. Find some confidence, the right person to chat to – get your ideas flowing and get people on board.”

Are you ready to take the first step? Let Socialsuite simplify your impact measurement journey. 

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