I have only we worked with one organization that refused point blank to evaluate their programming, but even that experience left me with the feeling that I need better tools to explain to organizations why evaluation is so important. Evaluation is not just about fundraising, although sometimes we do it because our donors want us to. Evaluation should be about examining the effectiveness of the ways we work. About improving our planning mechanism. About true board involvement.
The definition of program evaluation according too Michael Quinn Patton (Utilization-focused Evaluation, 2008) is: “The systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs to make judgments about the program, improve program effectiveness, and/or inform decisions about future programming.”
So if this so important why don’t more people evaluate? I think the biggest fear is poor results. Rather than seeing evaluation as a means of helping us to create a better product, people see it as a threat. Then there are other issues, such as cost; both time and resources. Shouldn’t we be investing every dime in service delivery? Do we have the expertise and isn’t the data so complex it will be hard to evaluate.
Today there are new trends in evaluation which I will talk about in my next article, but for now let’s just say I do not believe that there is any good excuse not to evaluate. Evaluation is essential both professionally and to develop resources.
Evaluation can be done both internally and externally but in both cases the assistance of a professional evaluator is essential. There are many different evaluation techniques and professionals can help us determine both the right questions to ask as well as recommend different evaluation methods that are appropriate to different circumstances. Having the assistance of a professional evaluator who guides internal evaluation does not have to be overwhelmingly expensive but helps give our results legitimacy.
Does evaluation cost money? Yes! Does evaluation raise money? Yes! If you are not currently evaluating your programs it is never too late to start!