To What End?

5 Questions to Ask BEFORE Thinking About Evaluation

April 4, 2016

Truth, the jargon in consulting and the social and philanthropic sectors makes me cranky. I can’t imagine I am alone in this. It seems particularly out of hand when you start to talk about anything related to impact.  I will confess, we “evaluators” don’t help things. Neither to those afflicted with measurement madness.

That being said, here are just some of the terms and concepts associated with impact: outcomes, goals, results, objectives, indicators, measures, performance measurement,performance management, strategic learning, evaluation, evaluative thinking, results based accountability, outcome based, impact philanthropy, strategic philanthropy, etc.

indexThere are nuances that differentiate these terms and concepts. However, they are, for the most part, more about philosophy and purpose as opposed to the technical aspects of implementation. What they all assume and which is often not explicit, however, is an organizational culture that values, understands and is designed to use data and information to inform decision making based on clarity of intention and strategy. This shows up formally in structures, practices, policies, leadership and resource allocation. It happens consistently and systematically and is core to not only the work but the being of the organization.

So, before you pick a path towards performance measurement, results based accountability, etc. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If you got Board/Staff in the same room and asked them “How would the world be better if we were successful?” would they say similar things? (If not on the same page, at least in the same chapter)
  2. What 5 – 7 questions are most important for your organization to answer that help you determine how you are making progress towards “success?”
  3. What data and information are currently being collected and analyzed to answer these questions? How well do they answer the 5-7 questions? Where can you make changes?
  4. How is data and information currently being used at your organization? Who uses it?
  5. What existing practices, formal or informal, support using information to make decision? Take actions? How might these be modified to be stronger, systematic and efficient?

If your answer to any of these questions is I don’t know or I am not sure, then it is likely that you have some work to do no matter what you call it.

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