In this final post of our Evaluation Ready series, we explore a few helpful tips to make evaluation a priority within your organisation.
Once you know how to put together a basic framework to guide how to do a program evaluation, the next challenge can often be making evaluation a consistent part of the work you and your colleagues do.
Evaluating versus implementing
The tendency in many organisations is to focus on service delivery. This can mean that it can be hard to commit adequate time to step back and review how effective a program is, what impact it is making, or how it could be strengthened.
So how do you ‘make it stick’ in an organisation full of busy people and competing priorities?
We’ve supported organisations of all different sizes and at various stages of maturity in evaluation. From our experience, we’ve identified a few factors in those organisations who are seeing the benefits of program evaluation.
1 Plan for it at the start
Planning how you will evaluate has to be just another component of good program/project planning. This will help to ensure you are set up from the start with a well-defined scope of what matters (and what doesn’t). It will help to secure approval from above to commit your time to evaluation activities and set expectations about what the products will be.
2 Start small
If you’re starting out, pick one program in the next year and evaluate it properly. Run the process from start to finish and reflect on what was helpful so that you can build on these strengths next time.
3 Involve other stakeholders
Start by appointing an influential Project Sponsor then pull together an evaluation steering group. This will bring in a range of perspectives and ensure that you value what matters to them. This helps to ensure buy-in when it comes time for reporting and acting on the findings and recommendations.
4 Only collect the data you need
Many people make the mistake of collecting data ‘just in case’ they might need it at some point during an evaluation. If you do a good job of defining what the scope of your evaluation is, you’ll be able to determine what is needed and what isn’t upfront. Saving time upfront often helps to free up space to be able to spend more time on reviewing findings, drawing insights and identifying implications.
5 Evaluate to inform what you do next
There’s often no good reason to evaluate a program without an intent to do something with the findings. Understanding implications and drawing up recommendations is just the first step of the change management process.
6 Use what’s already there
Particularly when it comes to collecting data, don’t reinvent things. If your organisation already collects data, whether that be keeping program records or running surveys or focus groups, you should prioritise using this over allocating precious time to collecting more. Beyond your own organisation, there are many standardised measures, survey tools and focus group guides available online almost any program topic you could think of—go searching for these first, and don’t create anything new until you’re convinced you need to.
7 Create an internal change community
Organisational change rarely happens when it is led by only one person, so don’t go it alone. Grab some of your colleagues, and start having more conversations about evaluation, particularly about the process and not just the product. Reflect on what works well and what needs expert input, and use this to refine and evolve your approach.
8 Develop your own templates
People will generally do things if they’re made easy. To make evaluation a routine part of your organisation’s work, creating simple and accessible templates to guide the process is a great way of knocking down some of the barriers to getting started. There’s plenty of free templates online (or you can get in touch with us and we’ll happily share ours). You can adopt these, or adapt them to suit your needs.
9 Publish your findings
Unfortunately, publishing evaluation reports is rarely done in the health and social services sectors. This can be due to organisations wanting to stay competitive and hold onto their intellectual property (IP), as well as some evaluation findings indicating that a program/service might not have met its objectives. Whether the findings are good or ‘bad’, there’s much to be gained by sharing what you learnt with your peers in the sector. In fact, many funders will see organisations who publish evaluation reports (even when the findings call for improvements) as committed to quality and learning.
10 Build out your evaluation skills
As we mentioned in the first blog in the series, anyone can be an evaluator. However, as you aim to get more sophisticated with your evaluation approach and capture deeper insights, there’s a diverse set of skills that any evaluator can work on developing. These include areas like sampling, qualitative research (focus groups, interviews), survey design, statistical analysis and data science, report writing, graphic design, cultural capability, change management and more specific evaluation methodologies and frameworks such as collective impact, social return on investment (SROI) and cost-benefit analysis.
11 Ask for help
And lastly (and expectedly from an organisation that delivers evaluation consulting services), work with experts when you have the resources. Bringing in someone else to evaluate your program can be beneficial for a range of reasons, not least because it provides a different viewpoint on the results and helps to promote openness and transparency in findings. But if you do engage an expert to help your evaluation work, don’t step out of the process. Our best evaluation work comes from partner organisations who are able to provide a clear brief based on their drivers and expectations around what an evaluation should achieve!
Now you’re evaluation ready!
WHERE TO NEXT?
Over the course of this series of blogs, we’ve aimed to share some of our knowledge and experience of delivering evaluation services for organisations across all corners of the health and social services sectors. We hope that this leads to more organisations doing better evaluations of the work they do!
We also run Evaluation Ready seminars and workshops around South-East Queensland, and are currently exploring delivering these in other locations and online. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a mission-based health and social services consultancy, Beacon Strategies is committed to partnering with organisations to better plan, design, implement, evaluate and communicate their work in delivering health outcomes for local communities. Click the button below to access other insights from our recently completed work or head to our dedicated page for not-for-profit organisations (NFPs).