Establishing a baseline and defining success

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Before you are able to evaluate the success of your projects or events, you need to establish a baseline and define the meaning of “success”. Without taking these first steps it will be difficult to measure or identify your achievements. This can be an important part of your initial visioning exercises when designing your project concept.

Establishing a baseline. The baseline is the position before you have taken any action. Knowing this allows you to compare the situation before and after your project or event in order to determine what the impact has been. The baseline will depend on what you want to measure and could include, for example, the number of people on your mailing list before an event, the number of homes with a certain energy efficiency installation or the initial carbon footprint or energy consumption of a household or group of households before your project starts. The data to determine your baseline could be collected via some of the Collecting data and feedback suggestions.

Defining success. The meaning of “success” will vary depending on the objectives set for the particular project or event. Having clear objectives is well worthwhile in order to have direction, focus and something to work towards. Objectives could relate to, for example, the level of participation, awareness and engagement, completion of phases of a construction project, financial returns generated or outcomes in terms of carbon emission reductions or energy savings. Often the best way to define success is to set targets from the outset. Targets can vary in specificity, although making them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) will make it easier to assess your progress.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Ashton Hayes carried out a baseline survey of CO2 emissions from their village in order to be able to assess their progress towards their aim of becoming England’s first carbon neutral village. The baseline survey was conducted in May 2006 and took about 4-6 weeks. Each year a team from the University of Chester repeats the survey to calculate the village’s success at cutting emissions. Students from the University carry our door-to-door surveys to ask residents questions about their lifestyles, including their domestic energy use, travel and holidays. Using this data, they compute their domestic footprint in order to ascertain that of the village as a whole. The calculations are based on certain assumptions established at the beginning of the project relating to, for example, eligible activities which can contribute towards reducing carbon footprints, average housing characteristics, and efficiency levels of vehicles, white goods, boilers and other equipment. The results from the first 5 surveys demonstrated that the community has managed to cut its carbon emissions by 23% through behavioural changes such as switching off appliances and changing to low energy light bulbs. Residents also provide feedback on the surveys and guidance on what further actions they can take to cut their carbon emissions.

Country: UK

Resilient Energy Great Dunkiln (REGD) is a joint venture between The Resilience Centre, a landowner and the community of St Briavels. Together they raised £1.4 million in five months to install a 500kW wind turbine in 2012 in the parish of St Briavels.

Various targets to measure the success of the project were determined  by a number of factors, namely an upfront independent energy generation report, ongoing monitoring, open book accounts (publically available), visitor numbers to site events, visitor numbers to the farm in between events, comments from local institutions and their keenness to support other similar projects in neighbouring parishes. 

Performance is measured on the successful delivery of projects funded by the community donations and level of support provided by the St Briavels community. REGD also measure the quality and value of the projects being proposed and how they meet future needs and increase the resilience of the community through reducing CO2 emissions, expanding community owned assets and additional self funded projects.

Published information is presented at annual District Council and Parish Council meetings. This information is used to demonstrate how monies are being spent and to encourage the community to think more strategically about its future needs.  REGD also publish twice yearly articles and blog posts in various magazines and newsletters to further engage the community. Many letters of support and thanks have been sent from St Briavels residents while many others volunteer their time to support this and other projects.

Country: Belgium

Interleuven works with local municipalities to deliver thermal imaging projects. Taking thermal images, or infrared photos, of homes before installing insulation or other means of reducing heat loss provides a useful record of baseline energy performance. Thermal images are used to provide a very visual presentation of baseline energy performance to residents, highlighting where and how much energy is being lost from their home. Residents are given expert advice on the various options available to reduce this energy loss highlighted and guidance on possible subsidies. If a resident orders some insulation works, a new thermal image is taken after these changes have been made, which is then compared with the baseline image in order to demostrate the reduced heat loss.