Originally posted at To What End?
This is the last in series of 6 posts were we explore 5 Evaluative Practices, that if adopted put you on the path to moving beyond conducting evaluations but to fully embrace a focus on impact as a means to guide your decisions and actions. Our last post highlighted “differentiating what you want to know, can know and need to know.” Key take-aways from that post were:
- Knowing how to ask the right questions at the right time (See video)
- Distinguishing between the information needed to determine if your efforts are progressing as intended, and having the impact desired.
Evaluation is not inexpensive but often it is more expensive (in many ways) than it has to be because there lacks an organizational culture of engaging in focused and relative inquiry, analysis and decision-making guided by data all of which is intended to increase and/or maintain intended impact.
The consequence of this is that when information is needed (for internal or external accountability) the process of honing in on the most critical questions about program delivery and impact is a more challenging and stress inducing undertaking. By building inquiry in to the practices of the organization, it will be easier and likely less costly to engage in “evaluation” because as an organization you will have processes and even more importantly practices in place to support.
Here are some ideas of things you can do and which our clients do already:
- Incorporate Reflective Practice in to Supervision – Thinking about how, why and to what end is a deliberate mindset. It is a new muscle that needs to be trained. How are you using supervision to introduce and support this type of thinking so it is not something someone else does but something everyone does?
- Structure Staff Meetings Differently– Build in to the beginning of each staff meeting an opportunity to reflect on practice (a program that just ended or even better just started) with a set of standard questions allows individual and group thinking. Themes that emerge should inform next steps with regard to programmatic changes and/or messaging to others about areas of success.
- Convene an Internal Evaluation Work Group (EWG)– This is a group that spans the organization charged with thinking about the most critical questions to answer about how efforts are being implemented and to what end. They can lead the thinking in determining the ways in which existing data collection and analysis efforts (i.e., intake forms, workshop assessments) are useful and make recommendations for changes.
- Develop an Inquiry Matrix – Create a table (using excel or word) that identifies the most critical questions your organization wants to answer about its efforts (first column), cross referencing with the existing data collection tools (top row) and the degree to which what you currently have in place answers those questions (we often use a 1 to 3 scale of 1 being the tool really address the question and 3 not so much). This simple analysis will give you an inventory of sorts of your existing data collection and its meaningfulness.
- Develop a Data Collection and Analysis schedule - Collecting the information is just step one. It has to be analyzed and then used. Just like you do with your programs, think of inquiry, analysis and decision-making as a program. Make a schedule. Identify who will analyze the information and when it is needed to make a decision. This will help you manage resources and to systematize the process. Use your EWG to guide this process.
These are just 5 ways you can move to becoming more systematic. They only cost is your prioritization of staff time and a commitment to shift your culture. What are some other ideas and strategies?
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