Bright Ideas: Be More Strategic With Your Evaluation

The essence of strategy is that you must set limits on what you're trying to accomplish. Michael Porter

A few years ago I had the honor of speaking at the Silicon Valley/Peninsula Non Profit Forum. My session, Is Your Mission Statement Enough? Making the Most of your Impactprovided the audience with an overview of evaluation trends and different ways to think about designing an evaluation not conducting it.

In spite of the session title and objectives of the session, several questions from the audience, not surprisingly, were a variation on “how do I measure XXX?”

What these questions demonstrated was a lack of context, purpose and focus. The quote above captures what I believe too often is a lack of strategy in how we think about and thus undertake evaluation.  

Our preoccupation with outcomes and measurement precludes us from being strategic in how we engage in evaluative efforts and most importantly how that information will be used, systematically, to inform on-going improvement, support accountability and ultimately (or ideally) increase impact.

For that reason, we use an Evaluative Inquiry model. Through its four stages, we partner with our clients to:

  • clarify purpose and organizational context,
  • prioritize questions,
  • specify inquiry sources, measures and methods,
  • engage in inquiry,
  • analyze information,
  • collectively think about the implications and how best to use the information, and
  • develop processes for integrating as much of this work in to the organizational culture based on its capacity.   

To date, it has been helpful to us in thinking about our work so that we can scope it appropriately.  For those with whom we have shared it, they say it gives them a way to think about their evaluative efforts grounded in their reality and helps them prioritize what can be an overwhelming effort.