A race track that leads into the mist with the numbers 2022 at the bottom

Sam Woodward – My first year at 20 Degrees

The past year has been challenging for all of us with new covid variants, changing restrictions, and all the uncertainty that brings. As a new employee at 20 Degrees, it was also a year of opportunity and growth for me; in September 2020 I moved from working for the company on an occasional, freelance basis to being employed as a researcher long-term.

Looking back over my first year in the company, it’s encouraging to see the progress I’ve made and exciting to think about where I might be in another year’s time. At a time of the year when many focus on New Years resolutions and goals for the year to come, I find it helpful to reflect on the past year. While I never set any particular goals for my first year at 20 Degrees, I do know it has not quite worked out the way I imagined; my hours have changed and my schedule adjusted to facilitate my health and working from home has been both far more freeing and far more difficult than I imagined it would be. But my first year also saw me improve my skills in and understanding of research and increased my confidence in the work I do.

There’s one thing I know for certain after my first year – it’s certainly a dynamic and interesting job! One moment I could be crunching numbers from survey data, the next I could be listening to someone talk about how volunteering for a project changed their life! Researching the latest innovations in manufacturing and looking at how many bat boxes have been installed in Medieval churches could all be in a day’s work at 20 Degrees.

Evaluating such a wide and dynamic range of projects certainly keeps things interesting! More importantly, it has also broadened my understanding of how research differs when working across such a variety of industries and project types, and what remains the same.

As Alun,  the Director of 20 Degrees, often reminds me, you can crunch the numbers all day – how many people attended the course? Did it reach the project targets? How many people surveyed responded positively? – but in the end, the important question to ask is “so what?”. What impact has this project had on the community it was trying to reach? What will the legacy of this scheme be? The project may have reached its target outputs, but have the outcomes it set out to produce materialised?

Being on the other side of the table has also made me a better team member for the work I do on various projects with a voluntary organisation. Working to evaluate such a wide array of projects, ranging in duration, scope and sector, I’ve also had to learn to adapt. It’s easy to see at the end of a project what monitoring information would have been helpful to collect at the beginning, but as none of us have the ability to turn back time, I’ve learned to work with what I have. Sometimes you are required to adapt your methods to suit the circumstances, but there is always a story that can be pulled out.

Working during my first year in a global pandemic has certainly made for interesting evaluations too. Almost none of the projects for which I have been part of the evaluation team have been delivered in the way imagined, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions forced many projects that would have delivered in-person events to move their activities online or adapt their work to keep in line with the constantly shifting safety concerns and government guidelines of the past 18 months.

The past year hasn’t been what any of us expected, professionally or personally, but I am grateful for what I have learned from it. As all of these projects have shown, we have no choice but to adapt to these rapidly changing circumstances and do our best to achieve what we set out to do, even if it hasn’t happened in quite the way we envisioned.

So, if I’m going to evaluate my first year working with 20 Degrees, what will I say about it? I could look at the hours I’ve worked or the number of formulas I’m able to use in Excel. I could count the number of interviews I’ve done, the number of reports I’ve contributed to, or the amount of survey data I’ve sorted through over the past year, but in the end, the question that really matters is ‘So what?

Because of all those interviews, all the desk research and survey data analysis, I have become a more efficient, confident and effective researcher. I’ve found the skills I’ve honed through my work are transferable to other areas of my life in ways I never imagined. And I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring. Overall, I would count that as a success!

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