UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Working with an organisation undergoing transition

15 October 2021

The Evaluation Exchange is a partnership between UCL and voluntary and community sector organisations in Camden and East London that aims to improve evaluation practice. This blog outlines the challenges and opportunities of working with a voluntary organisation in transition.

Small boy gets given some paint by his teacher

The Evaluation Exchange is a partnership between UCL and voluntary and community sector organisations in Camden and East London that aims to improve evaluation practice. In this blog post our participating team of students and researchers working with The Institute of Imagination reflect on working with a voluntary organisation during a period of transition and the challenges and opportunities this brings.

By Lydia Mardell, Heng Hu, Carlos Gomez Del Tronco and Sue Walters. 

Who we are

We are a research team of four and come from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines within UCL. Lydia is a PhD candidate in the Institute of Neurology and is using imaging techniques to record brain and spinal activity. Heng by contrast is a PhD candidate in Biochemical Engineering and has a background in the enzyme engineering. Carlos has a background in International Relations and European Studies and is currently a PhD candidate researching Islamophobia. Sue is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the UCL Institute of Education and is an experienced ethnographic researcher researching bilingual children and families and experiences of education. Together as a newly formed team we cover a wide range of disciplines, knowledges and experiences as well as approaches to ‘doing research’. We are excited about the prospect of working together and being able to look through the eyes of each other as we learn about how to use our collective knowledges to think about the work we will be doing together. 

Virtual background of a coffee bar with four researchers
The Researchers during a virtual coffee break


Our partner: The Institute of Imagination

The Institute of Imagination (iOi) is a charity creating space for children and young people of all backgrounds to develop their imaginations together. Imagination, creativity and inspiration are vital for next generations to adapt to this rapidly changing world. The goal of iOi is to spark the imaginations of young audiences through highly interactive events, training, partnerships and research with sciences and digital technologies. The audiences include but are not limited to children, young people, families, schools, adults and educators across London and beyond.


Children and adults work on craft projects


 Like many organisations the iOi had to strategically adapt during the pandemic, changing the way they worked and developing new approaches to tackle the challenge. The iOi explored different ways to deliver contents and launched a new conception series of projects: iOi at home. iOi at home encompasses different projects, ranging from digital lending library to flying futures programme. The iOi is currently in a transition period following the challenges brought about by the pandemic and with the appointment of a new CEO, Martin Allen Morales. This transition period is providing the opportunity to look back at their past to help inform their future. The outcome of this will be the development of a new strategic road map which will help determine the direction and focus of the organisation over future years.

Personally, for us as the students, it is quite exciting to work with a company undergoing a period of transition but also comes with some challenges. For example, when the project began it was not clear exactly what that the iOi wanted the goals of the Evaluation Exchange to be. However, over recent weeks we have worked collaboratively as a team to develop our aims and goals for the Evaluation Exchange. We now realise that we have an opportunity to make a lasting impact through helping the iOi and to gain a great amount of knowledge and insight in the process.

Text logo: institute of imagination

What we are doing

Since the iOi is finalising the above-mentioned new strategic road map, we realised that we could have the greatest impact by complementing this effort. The organisation has previously developed Theories of Change for individual projects and, as researchers, we were attracted by the conceptual orderliness and pragmatism of this tool which none of us had encountered in academia before. Thus, our main aim in the coming months will be to work alongside the iOi to develop a new organisational Theory of Change which will derive from their new strategy. Alongside, we will collaborate with the iOi to review some of their existing evaluation approaches; help to integrate a series of core impact measures into their new strategy; and to make use of the multidisciplinary nature of our team to design new evaluation methods that will allow the iOi to better communicate its future work. The high value that his institution places on human development has also meant that we have been encouraged to bring in our individual disciplinary knowledge and personal motivations into the project.

We have been closely working with iOi’s co-director Tom Doust, with whom we met and started shaping this project at a larger UCL training in mid-September. After setting our priorities and expectations, we have been regularly communicating with Tom, who introduced us to the rest of the team and has shared plenty of materials to familiarise us with the previous work of the iOi. Together, we have narrowed down the goals of this project for which Tom has developed a clear timeline. This month, we will start reviewing the organisation’s existing evaluation and impact approaches, as well as learning about different Theory of Change models.

Here, at the beginning of the project we are aware that there may well be challenges and moments of discomfort arising from our very different backgrounds and orientations to research but at the same time we are all embracing this as a real-life learning opportunity. Overall, our team is looking forward to collaborating with the iOi in ensuring that their programmes can achieve the greatest possible impact through the development of young people’s imagination and creativity.

Photo credit: Tyler Lagalo, Unsplash