Social enterprises and non-profit organizations carry out stellar work. They spend significant time and effort in designing interventions, fundraising and programme management. With good reason; these are critical activities. Here is another important activity that can have remarkable benefits for organizational achievement and bolster everything mentioned above: Evaluation.
First. What is evaluation and why evaluate? Well literally, it means assessing or making a judgement of something. I know, we do that all the time, but we’re talking about a systematic, result oriented activity in the specific context of development initiatives. Here is Patton’s definition (From Qualitative Research Evaluation Methods, 1987),
“Evaluation is a process that critically examines a program. It involves collecting and analyzing information about a program's activities, characteristics, and outcomes. Its purpose is to make judgments about a program, to improve its effectiveness, and/or to inform programming decisions”
Evaluation can take several forms and we’ll touch on some of these in the next articles. But for the purposes of this series, we are referring to a summative evaluation - one conducted at the end of the programme, focussed on understanding impacts or outcomes and the programme’s functioning. Sounds useful already? Let’s run through just five of its numerous benefits,
Understand Programme Performance: Evaluation can answer important questions on programme performance, both results and process oriented. In terms of results, it takes stock of immediate outputs, and scientifically identifies short-term outcomes and long-term impacts that a programme has had. On process, it recognizes efficiency of programme operation and improvements therein.
Provide Actionable Feedback: Evaluation generates insightful, actionable data, identifies constraints, recognizes best practices and offers incredible learnings. Programme teams can use all of these insights to feed into more effective and efficient programme design for future iterations of the programme, as well as new programmes.
Create Compelling Narratives: Storytelling and building narratives on outcomes is an essential component of non-profit management. Evaluation supports the development of these narratives, by showcasing that the programme works and the incredible positives that have stemmed from it!
Support Fundraising: In creating compelling narratives and feeding into stories, evaluation can strengthen fundraising activities. By illustrating that funds are being utilized effectively and efficiently, it buttresses existing donor relationships. Additionally, it demonstrates the need for funds, makes a case for scalability and positive developments that can stem from it, to future donors.
Build Credibility: Another important benefit it can have is to promote a culture of accountability within the organization and to donors, a useful reputation to build. Moreover, evaluations, particularly independent ones, demonstrate intention to systematically measure results and train their eyes on themselves to improve. This could help build an aura of credibility and a rock-solid reputation for the organization.
So there you have it! Evaluate. To show it works. To learn. To weave narratives. To raise funds. To build credibility.