Baseline & reality: From IS to SHOULD BE

In order to capture the prospective results of your project, you need to have reference values at hand. Reference values often are data from the past that answer the question of "How would you describe the situation before you started the project?"

Baseline data

Baseline data provides information on the initial situation, before the beginning of the project. Without baselines, you won’t be able to determine whether there has been progress, or what results have been achieved by your project. A baseline for YEA would be the pre-project rate of students transitioning to apprenticeships after completing secondary school. If there is no data collected here, it will later be almost impossible to determine the degree of success YEA has actually achieved.
In an ideal case, baselines are collected:
Generally speaking, the longer a project has been running, the harder it is to obtain data for a baseline. If you didn’t yet know all your indicators when the project began, and now have to create opportunities for retrospective comparison, you can ask the participants how they would have assessed their personal situations before participating in the project – thus, looking backward – as well how they evaluate their current situations. Record both answers on a scale.
  • What to do when no baseline exists

    If neither a baseline nor values taken from prior experience are available, you can work with estimated values that will be exchanged for real values as soon as possible.
This retrospective baseline can be very meaningful especially when dealing with individual and fairly soft OutcomeOutcomes describe the effects of your project at the level of the target group. They are a core part of the logic model and are subdivided into three stages: changes in knowledge, attitudes and abilities (level 4); in behavior (level 5); or in the living situation / status of the target group (level 6) outcomes. In parallel, or as an alternative, you can also ask interested third parties (e.g., the parents of participating youths).
If you didn’t identify all your indicators when the project began and must now create opportunities for retrospective comparison, you can ask the participants how they would have assessed their personal situations before participating in the project. In other words, you can ask them to compare their past to their present. Record both answers on a scale.
If all this is not possible, you may start looking for baseline values at any time. However, you have to be aware that their informative value is, of course, rather limited.

 

Target Values

Indicators help determine whether a goal has been achieved. However, clear target values are also needed: What is expected? When can it be said that an objective has been achieved? Has YEA reached its objective when all the youths being mentored have found a place in a training program? Or would half be enough? Or a single individual student? Ideally, of course, all youths would find an apprenticeship. However, this is unrealistic.  
  • Don’t be afraid of target values!

    Target values can change during the course of the project. In fact, this is entirely natural – if the data indicates that target values have to be corrected, do it! Target values should ultimately provide motivation as a positive challenge. This applies particularly to the individual-level target values you set in agreement with individual project participants, such as targeted improvements in grades by the end of a school year.
  To obtain viable target values, you should look as a guide to:
  • Your own experience.
  • The experiences and results of similar projects.
  • The baselines and interim results collected during the course of the project.