Brainstorming Guide: What Should You Evaluate?
We all (hopefully) know that evaluation is important- making sure your organization is effective and efficient is critical. However, when incorporating evaluation into "business as usual," what are the options?
I recently attended a strategic planning session where the board and Executive Director were discussing evaluation. They all agreed that evaluation was an important part of their planning, but they didn't know what to evaluate. Should they evaluate one program's outcomes? Their environment? Current and potential partnerships? All of the above?
What should you evaluate?
This is not a discussion of what could you evaluate, because then everything would be on the table. There are only certain things you should spend precious resources evaluating. To begin identifying things you should evaluate, answer the following questions:
What do you want to know about your organization?
What do you want others to know about your organization?
What outcomes is your organization trying to achieve? (theory of change)
What activities does your organization engage in to achieve your outcomes?
What do your stakeholders think about your program and your impact in the community?
What do you say you are doing to impact the community?
Are you using your resources efficiently?
How do your staff feel about their work and employment in the organization?
Does your organization have enough support to continue doing the work you are doing?
What changes are you making/have you recently made in the organization?
Now that you've done some brainstorming, look at your answers from the questions above. What do your answers mean through the lens of evaluation? What are you evaluating already, and where do you need to begin developing evaluation?
What should you NOT evaluate?
In thinking about what you should evaluate, keep in mind what you should not evaluate. Resources concerning evaluation are often limited, so only evaluate what is necessary.
What you aren't willing to change
For example, if your staff say they are way overworked, but you are not going to hire more people/reorganize the workload/etc., then don't ask your staff about their workload. Only evaluate areas you are willing to change.
What others are already evaluating
If someone else is collecting data about what you need AND you have access to it, don't spend your resources on gathering the same information. There is a plethora of data already available (i.e., census data, government programs data, data from national organizations, etc.), so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Do some research before you implement evaluations to ensure you are collecting new information.
What isn't related to the work you do
Sure, it would be nice to know everything about the field or population with which we work. However, there is only so much one organization can do. If your focus is on increasing the number of people who vote in an area, you might not need to know how regularly they exercise. Be sure to keep your evaluations focused on the essentials of what you can impact or improve.
You may now have a list of a million things to evaluate, some of which you are hopefully doing already, and some of which you may discovered are unnecessary. Contact us for more support in identifying what you should evaluate!
I’m Amanda Wallander Roberts, MSSW, a consultant passionate about building fundraising and evaluation capacity with social organizations. I’ve helped over 60 social organizations fundraise and evaluate programs, including raising over $22million, and developing more than 50 logic models, evaluation plans, and process maps. Learn more about my services or contact me for support today!