Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Evaluation: insider or outsiders job?

Who should evaluate your program? That question has probably been asked in your organization at one point or another. Most nonprofit organizations hire an evaluator that comes in for a few months or a year, evaluates the program, gives them a report and then leaves. Then a year, or years later, the process repeats itself. Each time with the organization dishing out anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Being an evaluation consultant, I am more than happy to help nonprofit organizations with their evaluations, but it makes me very sad when I see nonprofits that aren't doing evaluation simply because they can't afford it. This is one of the reasons why I think that building the capacity of nonprofit organizations to do their own evaluations is so important.

Nonprofits don't need to do fancy random assignment experimental evaluations for them to be good or useful. It can be a simple survey at the end of a program that helps with program improvement.

I do think bringing in an outsider's perspective can be valuable for evaluations, particularly when having an objective person is important. But, when that isn't the case, there really is no reason why an evaluation can't be done internally. It can save money, promote use, and increase involvement of internal staff (which increases likelihood of use).

I'd like to ask you (nonprofit workers/organizations) to share in the comment section whether you do evaluations, whether they are done internally or externally, and why?

Thank you in advance!


Holly Wagg said...

I think it depends on the complexity of the evaluation and what you're trying to achieve.

In cases where we're trying to evaluate the impact of a program on student's engagement and academic achievement, which is really done through a research lens in our organization, we've hired professional educational researchers and evaluators. In part because of expertise in developing and using unique tools, but also because this lends credibility to our research results.

Some evaluations, we do internally such as BOD 360 reviews, workplan and some programming elements.

When it comes to internal evaluation, much of it comes down to time and financial support. Can you develop or locate a tool, collect the information, analyze and report> If you've done the work up front at the program design phase, then this is much easier. But if you don't know what you want to achieve your program and what success looks like, then I find organizations rarely get to evaluation (never mind a good meaningful evaluation).

Anonymous said...

I have some experience with both types of evaluation, those conducted by staff and those run by outside consultants. For user-satisfaction type surveys or assessments looking at administrative or other internal functions, often staff can lead themselves. But when it comes to a large program initiative or a strategy or future strategies, I find it's best to call upon an external consultant, if you can afford it, or get someone to pay for it. That having been said, even the best consultant does NOT know your organization as well as you, but that's a good thing in many ways. And, these kinds of evaluations entail a great deal of effort, because you are forced to gather together a whole raft of materials enabling the consultant to familiarize him/herself with your program. Time consuming and often frustrating, but also a good thing. In the end, finding the right evaluation consultant, however, is not easy. At my organization I'd say we're batting 50/50 at best.