Our approach to evaluation grows out of our experience with program management. We believe that evaluation can be extremely valuable as a tool for improving programs – if it is carefully focused and if it does not become a burden to staff. We follow the utilization-focused school of evaluation, so we begin every project by asking how the project can be constructed so that the findings will actually make a difference.
An important aspect of the utilization-focused approach is a commitment to participatory evaluation. Based on our experience, we know that evaluation results are most likely to influence programs if the people who will need to implement the results are involved in designing the evaluation. Program staff often find that the process of designing the evaluation in itself is very valuable for clarifying the goals and strategies of the program. Low-budget, quick turn-around, high impact evaluations always require program staff to participate in data collection as well. Often the most cost-effective approach to data collection is to engage program staff in recording their own observations and to collect information that is already being generated as a result of program activities.
Most of the evaluation projects with which we have been involved have examined programs that are striving to achieve long term changes in people. These education, social service and social change programs struggle to define success in the short term. We have found that it is helpful to differentiate between process questions, about how a program is being implemented, and outcome questions. Evaluation that leads to recommendations about program implementation is always helpful in the short term. Questions about outcomes can begin to be answered when the evaluator helps the program staff to think more clearly about how the program works. Once program staff learn this new way of thinking, it is possible to identify indicators of short term changes that are linked to the long-term outcomes programs hope to achieve.
- Implement process and summative evaluations with an emphasis on qualitative data that provides insight into how and why programs work or don’t work
- Train and coach program managers to implement manageable and informative evaluation procedures that strengthen ongoing programs and provide feedback for funders
- Develop quality assurance systems including chapter evaluation processes, standards, and accreditation within networks of organizations – in a way that gets buy-in from professional and volunteer stakeholders
Workshops for Funders and Non-Profit Managers
- The Evaluation Buffet – What Should Your Foundation Choose?
- What Every Funder Needs to Know About Evaluation, Metrics, and Outcomes
- Getting Started in Program Evaluation
- Surveys That Really Work
- Fantastic Focus Groups