Three Evaluation Steps You Can’t Outsource

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Planning for effective evaluation

Planning for effective evaluation

By Elena Harman

Evaluation can be used to improve programs, to monitor progress towards a mission, or to more clearly articulate to external stakeholders what a program does and why. Each of these purposes dictate different approaches to evaluation. For instance, the former requires an evaluation more able to distinguish the specific contributions of individual program components, whereas the latter benefits from a more holistic view.

But before you decide to ask an evaluator to figure out what to measure, it's important to sit down and think about the 30,000-foot view of why you are dedicating resources to evaluation in the first place.

There are five core elements of an effective evaluation, the first three of which are dedicated to evaluation planning:

  1. Mapping your program: What exactly are you evaluating?

  2. Defining your key evaluation questions: What exactly do you need to learn from an evaluation for it to be worth your time?

  3. Matching methods to questions: Which evaluation methods are best suited to answer your key questions?

  4. Execute the evaluation: Collect, analyze, and report on data to answer your key evaluation questions.

  5. Reflect and learn: What do the evaluation findings say about your key evaluation questions? Where do you go from there?

The staff who touch the program daily must have a say in what is being evaluated, for what purpose, and in interpreting and learning from the evaluation.
— Elena Harman, PhD

“Matching methods to questions” and “executing the evaluation” are steps three and four and can be fully outsourced to an evaluation consultant or an internal evaluator. But the other three steps must be done collaboratively: You cannot outsource this thinking. The staff who touch the program daily must have a say in what is being evaluated, for what purpose, and in interpreting and learning from the evaluation.

You may already have a program map and some ideas about key questions that could be helpful. However, it is important to pause and articulate what your program does and is trying to achieve, even if you think you already know that. Have you included the perspectives of your on-the-ground program staff, development team, leadership, and even program beneficiaries?

In the coming months, we’ll share activities you can do on your own to get started with effective evaluation planning. You’ll also find a comprehensive resource in “The Great Nonprofit Evaluation Reboot: A New Approach Every Staff Member Can Understand,” a new book coming in early 2019, from our CEO Elena Harman, PhD. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get updates on future blog posts, and get an invite to the book launch party!


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Elena Harman, PhD | CEO

Elena takes the big-picture view of how Vantage’s work transforms how evaluation is used and perceived. She pushes everyone around her to think bigger about what evaluation can be, and how it can help improve our communities. With an encyclopedic knowledge of research and evaluation methods, Elena supports and advises the evaluation team on all projects. She connects the dots between data sources and projects. Elena has dedicated her life to Colorado and evaluation as a means to improve the lives of state residents. She brings a deep expertise of systems, nonprofits, and foundations in Colorado, as well as how to engage diverse audiences in a productive conversation about evaluation.


Elena Harman