Evaluation FOR learning
Evaluation is often thought of as a process to assess the outcomes of an intervention and the effectiveness of the activities put in place to achieve them. This is only part of the picture.
As I see it, different types of evaluation can be useful at many different points in the cycle of planning, action and reflection that all programs and initiatives have. Evaluative thinking is a habit of inquiry, a “muscle” that all organizations can learn to use to help them to close the learning loop in the planning and action cycle:
I bring this value to my work as an evaluator. My goal is always to do the work along with the initiative’s primary stakeholders, to build opportunities for learning and reflection right into the assignment, and to enhance end users’ own ability to do and to use evaluation.
Your evaluation and learning needs don’t have to be connected to complex initiatives! I can work with your individual nonprofit to design and carry out program evaluation or to put in place performance measurement systems.
Evaluation and strategic learning for networks, community and policy change initiatives
Increasingly, nonprofits and their funders are joining together with partners from other sectors to tackle complex problems and pursue systems change goals.
Community change, advocacy and policy change initiatives are complex:
- They can have multiple moving parts and simultaneously focus on different targets;
- The pathways to the long-term changes sought are unpredictable, and are influenced by many factors beyond the control of the initiative;
- As the context and the constellations of players are constantly changing, the goalposts move along with them.
I work with evaluation approaches that are adapted to these realities, and that capture and use information from different corners of the system. I aim to facilitate-
- Flexible and adaptive planning that creates a compass rather than a roadmap, and that uses real-time feedback to make adjustments along the way;
- capacity to capture the knowledge that is distributed throughout the action system (shared measurement);
- Assessing contribution rather than attribution;
- The value of evaluation and learning at different points in the process. Different areas of focus will matter to different sets of actors at different points in time - for instance, assessing capacity development or the achievement of interim progress markers. .
Evaluation and strategic learning for grantmakers
Increasingly philanthropic foundations have come to see themselves as agents of change, going beyond grantmaking alone and marshalling many more of their resources in order to affect change in their chosen communities or fields. As philanthropic strategy is developed in complex arenas such as community change, field-building and policy influence, many of the same evaluation principles apply.
Evaluation can help philanthropic foundations to continuously improve their own capacity to act strategically. Not only this, but alone among funders, philanthropic foundations are uniquely positioned to promote a culture that supports evaluation for learning and improvement among their grantees’ networks.
At the same time, foundations can face special challenges when it comes to evaluation and learning. They work in communities, fields and issue areas as one player within and alongside networks of partners and grantees. For some, it can be difficult to develop evaluation practices that allow them to untangle their own outcomes and effectiveness from those of their grantees. More and more, foundations recognize that they need to engage in assessment and learning along with their grantees and partners. Network approaches to evaluation and learning - that are sensitive to each stakeholder’s unique needs and vantage point - are a promising way to meet these challenges.
With my own experience of grantmaking operations, as a consultant I take into account the unique realities and challenges of philanthropic organizations, including:
- the need to strike a balance between the operational requirements of grantmaking and grant administration, and the learning practices that help to enhance strategic capacity
- the need to strike a balance between internal organizational development needs and the time required to meaningfully invest in external networks of partners, grantees and stakeholders.