This is the third of a three part series on how internal evaluators can think about building their organization’s evaluation capacity and is based on a talk at Eval 13 by the same name. Last post, I wrote about engaging people within the organization to support evaluation sustainability.
Nonprofits can be crazy places to work and it’s a rare day when I feel like I am not being pulled in five directions at once. Within the myriad of competing priorities that non-profit leaders have to deal with, evaluation-capacity is generally low on the priority list. And this is unlikely to change. So if we want evaluation capacity to ‘stick’, we should not try and compete with those other priorities, but instead integrate evaluation into the very systems that otherwise compete for leader’s attention. What do I mean by that? See below for some examples:
- Performance Measurement and Management – more and more nonprofits are investing in building performance measurement and management systems to monitor how things are going in their programs. While many of these systems fall short of full-fledged evaluation capacity, it is fertile soil in which to ‘nurture the inquisitive mind.’
- Fundraising and Development – fundraisers have typically only come to me for data to include in their final report to the funder AFTER the program was done. To get ahead of that pattern, I forced my involvement in the creation and writing of proposals, into which I inserted promises about evaluation, data, and analysis. A year later, I now had leverage: “We promised to the funder we would do this evaluation, so if we want to continue to receive money from them, perhaps you should work with me on making sure we get this evaluation right.”
- Human Resources – Put evaluation activities in job descriptions for new hires – it may be hard to get long-term employees to change their work habits, but newbies don’t know any better. Make sure job descriptions and performance evaluations include participation in evaluation activities. Bring in professional development resources on evaluative activities for program directors and people who are looking to become program directors.
- Management meetings – I mentioned the constant discussion of evaluation in my earlier post, but I feel the need to reiterate it. If you can get the CEO to dedicate a regularly scheduled portion of management meeting agendas to evaluation, it sends a clear message that it is a priority. Those times are great opportunities to move your evaluation agenda forward.
- Program Planning and Strategy – Forward thinking organizations should be looking to build programs that work. By making sure that evaluation gets a seat at the table when discussing future program planning or strategy, you can imbue the conversation with evidence-based language and values that will open up more opportunities for evaluation capacity. This is a long-game strategy, but one that will shift the organization into the right frame of thinking.
Getting an organization with no evaluation capacity to become an organization in which evaluation capacity is a foregone conclusion is not easy, fast, or cheap. It takes many years until you really start to see an organization change the way it makes decisions and allocates resources. But by developing a good strategy, engaging people appropriately, and engaging with other organizational systems, we evaluators can have a real and significant impact in creating an effective and evidence driven non-profit sector.
Patrick Germain is the Director of Strategy and Evaluation at Project Renewal, a large homeless services organization in New York City and is the President of the New York Consortium of Evaluators, the local AEA affiliate.