Building the capacity of the voluntary and community sector


TreeHouse (renamed Ambitious about Autism) was delivering the Parent Support Project (PSP), funded by the then Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), and needed an evaluation to assess its impact. PSP aimed to encourage professionals, parents and local government to work together to develop appropriate services for children with autism.

PSP exemplified two of the key planks of the Government’s support for the third sector, which were supporting the third sector in community action and campaigning, and improving local partnerships.

TreeHouse wanted to evaluate the PSP not only to provide evidence of impact to the DCSF but also to learn from the experience, so they could apply the learning elsewhere.

TreeHouse approached OPM as they were attracted to OPM’s values-driven approach to evaluation, and by OPM’s deep understanding of the public service commissioner–provider relationship.

What we did

OPM and TreeHouse were committed to conducting the evaluation in a way that did not merely satisfy the needs of the funder, but also built the capacity of TreeHouse staff to sustain improvements over the longer term.

The approach adopted for the evaluation of PSP recognised that meaningful engagement and the nurturing of ongoing learning and reflection could be a means of building capacity within TreeHouse to achieve ambitious longer-term outcomes. OPM and TreeHouse colleagues worked together to co-design the evaluation and a number of research instruments. They also identified specific activities that TreeHouse staff could do, with training and support from OPM, in a way that would not threaten the integrity of the evaluation. We then distilled learning from the evaluation to refine practice.


The evaluation helped TreeHouse demonstrate value and accountability to the funder and stakeholders, and communicate learning about the PSP. Co-producing the evaluation meant that TreeHouse staff involved began encouraging others in the organisation to use evaluation techniques, which contributed to a culture change.

Building on the PSP evaluation, TreeHouse secured new funding to deliver a Parent Participation Project (PPP), which benefited from PSP learning. For example, a key finding from PSP was that TreeHouse needed to adopt a ‘doing-with’, rather than a ‘doing-to’ approach when working with stakeholders, and to treat them as equal partners. So TreeHouse involved stakeholders in planning the PPP from the start. One stakeholder found this: ‘inspiring and generated increased momentum to work together to ensure that participation is embedded in service delivery’ (stakeholder comment after a workshop).