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Get longitudinal impact data with a postcard to your future self

Updated: May 18, 2020

How do you find out what happens after you engage with publics or stakeholders? You might have run an exhibition or done a seminar for policy makers, but how can you find out who came and stay in touch with them legitimately (so you are GDPR compliant)?

Ever since I discovered and then wrote about "a postcard to your future self" in QMUL's Public Engagement Evaluation Toolkit, I've been itching to use it in my own research. Now at last I've got my opportunity. Today, I curated a lunchtime seminar for policy-makers in Westminster, and I adapted the method to both increase the likelihood that we generate impact and evaluate impacts as they evolve after the event. The method was developed for public engagement events, and as far as I know this is the first time it has been adopted for use in a policy seminar.

How does the method work?

This is how you can use a postcard to your future self to evaluate impact:

1. Create postcards with a question at the top, like "What do you want to remember from today?" or "What do you want to do differently as a result of today?" (or maybe both of these questions). For my policy seminar, I asked two different questions: "How might you put what you learned today into policy or practice (or what would you need to use what you learned)?". Here's what the back of the postcard looks like:

2. Make a tick box at the bottom for people to opt in to receive emails from you, incentivising them to tick the box with something you think will be of value to them (e.g. prize draw or a free e-book or other resource). For my policy seminar, the text (and offer) read, "Tick this box for a researcher to contact you to see if you need help putting what you learned today into practice, and to receive electronic copies of the policy briefs and presentations. We will not use your email for any other purpose or pass it to any third parties. Contact data will be stored securely by University and will be GDPR compliant."

3. Ask people to write the answer to your question on the back of the postcard. You can have the postcards on a stall at the back of your exhibition or event with the question and instructions next to them, or invite people to write them as they pass the stall. For my policy seminar, they were on people's seats when they arrived at the venue, and we put up a slide at the end of the event with instructions on what to do, and what would happen next.

4. Get people to leave their postcard with you and tell them you will post it back to them in a couple of months time. Some people create a pretend postbox on their stall but I just collected them up at the end of my policy seminar.

5. Send the postcards back to participants, recording the answers written by those who ticked the box and adding those who gave consent to an email list.

6. Email your participants with the things you promised them. I'm not sure when is best to do this yet - probably as soon as possible after the event

7. Automate an impact evaluation survey so it sends six months after the person is added to your list. I've not designed this for my policy seminar, but if you want to get a feel for the sort of thing I'm talking about, you can see the survey that goes to people who join the Fast Track Impact mailing list at a training after six months here (please don't fill it in unless you've been on one of my trainings though!).

8. Consider sending emails during this time to further deepen the interest and engagement of participants in your research, providing them with opportunities to engage in future events, or take specific actions that might be beneficial (impactful). The more value you add to your participants, the more likely they are to respond to your survey when it arrives.

By integrating the postcard technique with an online survey, I'm attempting to overcome some of the limitations of the technique. In particular, you can only really ask one (maybe two) question(s), which means that the quality of the feedback is unlikely to be great, compared to many other evaluation methods. Also, people tend to use the method to only elicit positive feedback, and a good evaluation should always be balanced. Negative feedback is important to enable you to learn from or correct mistakes. In my case, I've tried to ask both how people think they'll use what they learned, and why they think they might be able to use it, but it is still very limited.

Feedback from participants at the event was overwhelmingly positive, and most people completed a postcard. I'm looking forward to reading what they wrote and following up now!

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