The SOUL Project grew out of a need identified by the Norfolk voluntary and community sector to evidence the progression of their clients in relation to informal learning. This is learning which does not lead to a recognised qualification and takes place in a wide variety of settings. For the purposes of the project, the term includes personal development initiatives and situations where an individual might not even appreciate at the time that they are learning.
Sector groups active in this area could point anecdotally to considerable gains by clients in terms of ‘soft’ outcomes, such as increased confidence and self esteem, but there was a need for an effective system to provide evidence of the learning taking place. Concern was expressed over the tendency for funding to be concentrated on ‘hard’ outcomes, such as formal or accredited learning opportunities and access to paid employment. More recently, funding organisations such as The Big Lottery Fund have increasingly recognised that ‘hard’ outcomes do not give a complete picture of a client or learner’s progress and therefore of a project’s success.
There is, in consequence, a growing requirement that groups receiving funding should provide evidence of ‘soft’ outcomes to complement ‘hard’ data. A group of voluntary organisations in Norfolk, headed by Voluntary Norfolk, therefore took the initiative of devising a research project with The Research Centre, City College Norwich, to achieve a number of objectives, one of which was the development of a system to monitor and measure progression in ‘soft’ outcomes. The SOUL Project received funding from The Big Lottery Fund (formerly the Community Fund) and commenced in September 2003, continuing to the end of February 2006.