At the CEF, we collect beneficiaries’ feedback on the usefulness and impact of our learning events by a range of tools from post-event evaluation surveys and project’s LogFrames to visits to the beneficiary institutions in South East Europe and collecting the so-called Value Creation Stories (VCS).
I started to collect VCS at the CEF a couple of years ago to better understand the impact of the project activities on the work of individual participants as well as their organizations. According to the Wenger-Trayner conceptual framework, a change in behavior traverses different cycles, providing an account of how learning initiatives have created value for participants, their organizations, and stakeholders.
At first, the VCS framework seemed a bit vague and very complex to me, but later during the training process with social learning expert Beverly Wenger-Trayner and my CEF colleagues, and conducting interviews with beneficiaries by myself, I realized that the VCS framework helps me better understand the impact of the CEF learning activities on beneficiaries and the added value of these activities in increasing beneficiaries’ knowledge.
As a storyteller with a background and interest in international relations, the significant advantage of my work presented me the opportunity to collect feedback by talking to officials and letting them tell me their feedback themselves, while I write it as a story for reporting and evaluation purposes.
I soon realized that unlike mere numerical statistics of post-event surveys, I can collect data with the VCS methodology at different cycles and cross-reference it with the stories to show the casual link between our learning initiatives and impact on beneficiary institutions. This is what I like the most. Such an approach enables me to be more in contact with beneficiary institutions in the region and build up a network of officials that I can contact at any time to inquire about particular contact persons or specific learning needs of their institutions that we at the CEF can further include in different project proposals.
However, I also found some obstacles at the beginning of my journey as a value creation storyteller. Namely, the different value cycles demand concrete indicators in order to be said that the value was created in a particular cycle. I realized that at the event, we can only collect immediate and potential value (because most participants have not attended other events or they have not yet returned to their home offices and applied the new knowledge at work) and that we have to strive harder in order to search for the applied, realized or even transformative values.
Unlike immediate and potential values that can be collected through evaluation surveys, applied value needs qualitative assessment. Collecting applied values seemed challenging to me at the beginning, as a certain time is needed to pass between the end of a learning activity and the interview. I have experienced that re-interviewing beneficiaries repeatedly helps collect values that are measurable after some time.
Also, repeated interviewing helps stakeholders more systematically reflect on their own learning experience, which supports comprehensive storytelling. It is very important that interviewees are guided to the applied value and that we help them understand that this value is already there somewhere; it just needs to be found in practice. I always advise beneficiaries to ask themselves what difference the gained knowledge increase brought to their work after they returned back home. In most cases, they are eventually capable to tell me what kind of knowledge they have applied at work and/or what kind of experience they shared with their colleagues.
The value creation technique can be used as an ongoing process. Eventually, beneficiaries even reveal “secondary” stories that show what others have learned from them, after they attended a specific learning event.
It was helpful for me to share practical experiences and good practices in implementing the VCS framework with others using this framework. I also experienced that the stories empower me to do more than mere reporting on our projects to relevant stakeholders – they give me insights at different stages. For example, I have realized that conducting value creation interviews with beneficiaries have value as such, helping them reflect on their own learning experiences.
Last but not least, being in contact with beneficiaries and collecting feedback from them helps me learn more about their work and enables me to also strengthen communication with coordinators from the CEF constituency.
Wenger, E., Trayner, B., and de Laat, M. 2011. Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. Available at: http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/publications/evaluation-framework/ (December 29, 2015).