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Our 2020 Vision for Nonprofit Evaluation: Let’s Be Bold!

Our 2020 Vision for Nonprofit Evaluation: Let’s Be Bold!

One of the goals of our work to develop a Sector Driven Evaluation Strategy was to think beyond the limits of the system that we have now. 

When it comes to the fundamental questions about why evaluation matters and what makes it useful, there really isn’t much disagreement. People find evaluation useful when it helps to answer questions that matter, involves a spirit of collaboration and trust between stakeholders, and leads to action.

Our 2020 Vision for Nonprofit Evaluation is an attempt to more clearly articulate a strong shared vision about what nonprofits want evaluation to be and do. To that end, we asked ourselves a very basic question (and gave ourselves a few years to get there): What if, by the year 2020, we had a system of evaluation that really worked for nonprofits?

Click here to view the full Vision & Principles document

A Vision for Nonprofit Evaluation

Based on what we have learned so far, we suggest that a system of evaluation that really worked for nonprofits would have the following key characteristics:

  • Evaluation leads to action more often for more purposes.

  • Evaluation addresses needs and questions that are important to a range of stakeholders.

  • Evaluation is planned, conducted, and shared in a more collaborative way.

  • Evaluation is used when and where it can help the most.

We think, if these four ideas could be put into regular practice, we’d not only have a better system of evaluation for the nonprofit sector, but we would also have more progress on those issues that matter to Ontarians. After all, evaluations are supposed to help us learn in order to move forward.

Admittedly, we know achieving this vision will take work and there are many challenges to overcome — such as the need for more support and capacity to do evaluation, as well as the need for more discussions between stakeholders about expectations and roles — but we wanted to be bold and push for a vision we could all aspire to.

Principles to Help Us Get to Useful Evaluation

At the same time as we were envisioning a brighter future for nonprofit evaluation, we felt it was also important to identify some basic principles that could help lead to useful evaluation. We know nonprofit leaders have a lot on their plates and an evaluation that is not seen as useful can be one more burden they have to bear. 

Evalution-Principles-final

We also know that sometimes, particularly for those who may not have as much experience with evaluation, it can be difficult to identify what is causing the frustration. Our hope is that these principles can be used by you as a reference. For example, if you’re feeling that an evaluation isn’t working the way you think it should but aren’t quite sure why, these principles might help you to identify where the problems might be. It might even help you the next time you have a conversation with your evaluation stakeholders about what you need in order to overcome your challenges.

It should be noted that the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation (JCSEE) has developed a set of program evaluation standards that have been adopted by the Canadian Evaluation Society. The principles we have developed below in many ways echo the JCSEE list. However, our principles also aim to simplify and reframe the issues for a nonprofit audience and reflect many of the concerns we have heard from those in the sector.

In short, these principles are intended to show that evaluations can lead to action when there is:

  • reciprocal respect between stakeholders;

  • a commitment to use and learning; and

  • a match between the purposes and mechanics of doing evaluation

Our 2020 Vision & Principles are here for you to refer to as needed. However, we also want you to help us build on our work. We want to know your vision for what evaluation should be? What are some principles you think should be prioritized? Let us know your thoughts: Complete this short online survey.


Andrew Taylor and Ben Liadsky
Andrew Taylor and Ben Liadsky

Andrew Taylor thinks evaluation is only useful if it answers questions that matter and enables people to act in new ways. He is co-owner of Taylor Newberry Consulting, a Guelph-based firm that specializes in developing research and evaluation solutions for public sector organizations. He is also ONN's Resident Evaluation Expert. He has helped organizations across Canada develop impact strategies and measurement systems that are evidence based, manageable, and meaningful. **** Ben joined the ONN in 2015 as Evaluation Program Associate. He has more than five years of experience working in the nonprofit sector in a variety of capacities from project management to fundraising to communications. He holds a master’s degree in International Studies with specialization in Global Environmental Policy from the University of Northern British Columbia where his research focused on the role of local governments and transnational environmental networks in addressing climate change. When not reading away, he can be found on his bike - if you can catch him that is.

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