Last week we began partnering with the Mississippi Alliance for Nonprofits and Philanthropies to launch a series of four workshops designed to help nonprofits embed evaluation into their work.
Over the next eight months, we’ll be walking through a six-step process embedding evaluation into the work of nonprofits, while also walking withour partner organizations as they work through an evaluation of their own.
Find your learning team
The first step in this six-step start to evaluation involves finding your learning team: the group of people who will shepherd an evaluation through good times and bad; who will act as a sounding board for evaluation ideas and plans; open doors when you need access to people and places; and who will inevitably serve as the starting point for efforts to disseminate findings through the many and varied channels of your nonprofit networks.
Why we care about PEOPLE
The use of evaluation committees harks back to (among other things) the seminal work of Michael Quinn Patton and his oft-stated maxim about leading useful evaluations.
In MQP’s words: “There are five key variables that are absolutely critical in evaluation use. They are, in order of importance: people, people, people, people, people.”
So what’s the first step to embedding evaluation into a nonprofit organization? Finding the people who will care about your evaluation and its findings.
But which people?
If people make up ALL FIVE key variables in the list of factors critical to evaluation use, then finding the right people to lead your learning team is fundamental!
We recommend considering these six categories of people to include on an evaluation committee as you set out on your learning journey:
- The Decision Maker. This is the person who will ultimately make the decision the evaluation seeks to inform. By involving this person up front, you maximize the likelihood that (a) your evaluation will answer a question this person values, and (b) you can make sure you choose methods this person is likely to trust.
- The Influencer. Who’s the go to person in your organization? Who’s the person that can bring other people along with them—particularly when things get tough? Because things may very well get tough during your evaluation, you want this person on your team.
- The Doer.What about the person with responsibility for actually doing the evaluation? Maybe that’s you, but maybe it’s someone else. Either way, you want this person along for the ride so they understand the strategic decisions and discussion underpinning the evaluation’s purpose. That way, they’re more likely to keep these strategic purposes in mind as they carry out the evaluation’s day-to-day tasks.
- The Gatekeeper.This is the person who controls access to the people, places, or data you will need for your evaluation. Maybe your evaluation hinges on being able to get to a particular location….maybe it rests on being able to interview a group of social workers. Whoever controls access to these people and places is your friend…and has a legitimate role on your evaluation committee!
- The Designer/Manager.In the non-profit world many folks have their babies—the programs they have put their heart and soul into, and are committed to seeing through. If you’re evaluating someone’s baby, you want them on your side. Consider inviting them to be on the committee to avoid potential pitfalls further down the road.
- The Recipient. Who uses the program, project or product being evaluated? Whoever they are, you want their perspective coming through loud and clear in your evaluation committee. Consider finding someone who might be able to represent the people who participate in your program or project so that their voices can be heard during the planning stages of your evaluation—and during every stage that follows.
With a strategically planned evaluation committee, our hope is that the learning team will have enough political and practical clout to create an evaluation process that leads to useful, actionable findings that inform ongoing learning and adaptation.,