A Sector Driven Evaluation Strategy
Sometimes evaluation can be a dirty word — it can feel like something imposed, like another layer of reporting. The good news? It doesn’t have to be that way. Breakthroughs can happen when we’re able to frame an old problem in a new way and evaluation is definitely an old problem that needs some reframing!
The use of evidence can help make our work better and nonprofits need to engage many stakeholders, including funders, to create a plan for evaluation that meets everyone’s needs. Too often, however, nonprofits end up doing evaluation in reactive mode, spending time answering questions that have been chosen by others.
What if, together, we can shift our points of view and notice new things about evaluation? How can it help us get our work done and help our communities? How can we discard what’s not working and strengthen (or create) what can work?
There are a number of initiatives in Ontario to help individual nonprofits get better at the technical aspects of evaluation through workshops, handbooks, and coaching. This is important work. ONN’s focus is complementary, but different.
Our aim for a sector driven evaluation strategy is to create a more enabling ecosystem for evaluation in the nonprofit sector. In other words, we want to change the system so that it addresses evaluation questions that really matter. We want a system that makes it easier, more rewarding, and less stressful for nonprofits and their partners to do meaningful evaluation work.
This guide is meant to help you articulate more clearly what you want to get out of an evaluation and what concerns you may have about the process. It is meant as a conversation starter and is a means to open up a dialogue with your stakeholders in a subject area that can be complex and difficult. That’s why we have developed this discussion guide. It provides tips about how to ask these questions in different contexts, the challenges that can come up, and what to do about them.
Don’t want the whole guide? Skip to the question(s) of interest to you:
In this report, we delve into some of the systemic issues of evaluation in the nonprofit sector. It is intended to help us begin to unpack this big, complex, and sometimes emotional evaluation discussion.
In Ontario’s nonprofit sector, evaluation is a word that gets used a lot. Different kinds of data gathering approaches with different purposes sometimes get lumped together under the general heading of evaluation. This can lead to miscommunication and unrealistic expectations. To try to clear things up a bit, we have created this resource.
This resource presents a vision and set of principles for evaluation. Our 2020 Vision for Nonprofit Evaluation articulates what a strong shared vision for useful evaluation can and should be. While our Principles to Help Us Get to Useful Evaluation will help to identify some practical basics for a nonprofit audience regarding how an evaluation process should unfold.
This resource includes strategies designed to help you get into the habit of talking about your work in impact language.
This resource contains a few of our favourite slides that we’ve used in a number of presentations to nonprofits and funders on what we’re doing, why it’s important, and what leads to useful evaluation.
Episode 1 (2016.04.19)
In our first evaluation podcast, Andrew and Ben sit down with Chanel Grenaway from the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF). Tune in to hear the story of how evaluation is making a difference for the CWF and their grantees.
Our Blog Posts
We explore some of the key issues, challenges, and ways to move forward in our blog posts.
Read our latest blog: Can We Talk? Promoting better evaluation conversations between funders and nonprofits – published on AEA365.org (2016.12.29)
We’ve got more evaluation goodness. Check out our previous blog posts below.
- What Evaluation Can Really Do for Nonprofits (2015.08.13)
- Simple tips for communicating about impact – Part 1 (2015.09.16)
- Simple tips for communicating about impact – Part 2 (2015.09.30)
- Unpacking Nonprofit Evaluation: Who is taking the risks and who is making the decisions? (2015.12.10)
- Treating the Cause Rather than the Symptoms: Building an Evaluation Agenda for the Nonprofit Sector – published on AEA365.org (2016.02.18)
- There’s an Art to It: Exploring Creative Evaluation (2016.03.23)
- Move over, Dilbert! Introducing The Evaluation Comic Series (2016.03.31)
- Making Evaluation Work for Nonprofits: Our Theory of Change (2016.04.19)
- Hot off the press: Our evaluation comic 2.0 (2016.05.11)
- Whaddaya mean, “evaluation?” — Mismatched expectations in nonprofit measurement (2016.05.17)
- What We Learned From Talking Evaluation to Funders (2016.07.21)
- Evaluation Comic 3.0! Oranges to Apples: Measuring What Counts (2016.07.25)
- Our 2020 Vision for Nonprofit Evaluation: Let’s Be Bold! (2016.08.09)
- Should nonprofits be reporting evaluation findings to funders? (2016.10.07)
- Who sets the evaluation agenda? Five important discussion questions to make evaluation useful (2016.10.28)
- Can We Talk? Promoting better evaluation conversations between funders and nonprofits – published on AEA365.org (2016.12.29)
Our Comic Series
We developed a comic series to explore key themes in our conversations with the sector about nonprofit evaluation.
Click below to view the comics at full size.
Our Webinars and Presentations
Missed a webinar? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Click below to get caught up.
Rethinking Evaluation: Developing a Strategy for the Sector, By the Sector (2016.01.27)
In this webinar, we want to hear from you! We have a few ideas for how we can start to change the way evaluation in the nonprofit sector works and we want your feedback on what we might include in a strategy (e.g. a vision and set of principles for evaluation, a negotiation guide to use with funders and other stakeholders, ways we can promote an evaluation culture, and how we can use a network approach to better share and collaborate). More specifically, we want to know what you think needs to change at a systems level and how we can change it together.
2016.01.27 Rethinking Evaluation Webinar Slides
2016.01.27 Rethinking Evaluation Webinar Recording
Evaluations that Work: What the Nonprofit Sector Can Learn from ONN and Vibrant Communities (2016.06.22)
Evaluations “work” when they lead to insight and action. We all know that the process can be resource-intensive, so it is important for us to maximize the probability of getting it right! In this webinar, two leading learning institutes, the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) and Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities Canada, will unpack real-life stories from Cities Reducing Poverty members to identify cases where evaluation worked really well. Together we identify how they achieved exceptional success, and top takeaway points for the nonprofit sector.
2016.06.22 Webinar Recording & Resources
Five Important Discussion Questions to Make Evaluation Useful (2016.12.07)
Efforts to build evaluation capacity in the nonprofit sector often begin with the assumption that the problem is lack of skill, resources, or interest by nonprofits. However, based on our research we think the problem may have more to do with the fact that the nonprofit evaluation “system” is not well designed- i.e. the ways evaluation is funded, rewarded, disseminated and used at a societal level. Join this interactive webinar to explore our brand new guide to help you get it right. We’ll present some common evaluation scenarios and walk through how you can put this guide into action to get the most out of an evaluation. We’ll push your critical thinking about the purposes that evaluation work is serving and the reasons why it sometimes fails to deliver on its promise.
2016.12.07 Five Important Discussion Questions Webinar
2016.12.07 Five Important Discussion Questions Slides
Adapted Ignite Presentation from AEA Conference (2016.10.28):
We can’t do it alone.
In order to achieve these goals, we’ll be reaching out to nonprofits across Ontario. We’ll be developing strategies that can help nonprofits make informed decisions about the most meaningful ways to use their limited evaluation resources, and shift the conversations with their key stakeholders to make evaluation an asset. We will test ideas about how to ensure that evaluation strengthens nonprofit work, benefits the communities we serve, helps us demonstrate accountability, and do it all without creating unnecessary administrative burdens. Together, we can do this!
Do you have strategies and resources to share?
A few helpful external resources
Here are a few resources we’ve come across from around the web.
- Collective Impact 3.0 (Tamarack Institute)
- Data as a Means, Not an End: A Brief Case Study (SSIR)
- Drowning in Data (SSIR)
- Evaluation and Foundations: Can We Have an Honest Conversation (NPQ)
- Evaluation issue from the Canadian Government Executive magazine
- Evidence is a journey. Should it lead to proving or improving? (AUE)
- How Evaluation Can Strengthen Communities (SSIR)
- How to Stop Blaming: Six Principles For Accountability Design
- Markets for Good: Forcing Nonprofits To Lie about Data
- Measuring What Matters (SSIR)
- Putting Grantees at the Center of Philanthropy (SSIR)
- Reconsidering Evidence: What It Means and How We Use It (SSIR)
- Shortcomings of Modern Strategic Philanthropy and How to Overcome Them
- Stop (Just) Measuring Impact, Start Evaluating
- Thinking about Nonprofit Evaluation as Affected by Time (NPQ)
- We don’t all need to throw wellingtons: Too much evaluation is a waste of time and money
- 4 Reasons Why Nobody Reads (or Uses) Your Evaluation Report: Here’s How To Fix It
- [Infographic] 10 Things to know about Evaluation — Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
- A Guide to Evaluating Place-Based Initiatives — Government of Canada
- A Practical Guide to Advocacy Evaluation — Innovation Network
- AEA365 Blog — Daily tips by and for evaluators
- Asking Useful Evaluation Questions
- Balancing Act: A Guide to Proportionate Evaluation
- Community Tool Box — An evaluation toolkit
- Community Solutions — Planning & Evaluation
- Creative Monitoring & Evaluation — International Platform on Sport & Development
- Creative Strategies for Evaluation — My Peer Toolkit
- Data Playbook
- Emerging Tools for Community-Driven Evaluations
- ÉvalPop — Blog on evaluation (en français)
- Evaluation Flash Cards: Embedding Evaluative Thinking In Organizational Culture
- Evaluation Methods and Tools — Evaluation Support Scotland
- Feminist Evaluation
- Financial Literacy Outcome Evaluation Tool — Prosper Canada
- Five Principles for Achieving Impact
- Free Resources for Program Evaluation and Social Research Methods
- Good Evaluation Questions: A Checklist to Help Focus Your Evaluation
- How to Create an Effective Monitoring and Evaluation Frameowrk
- INTRAC Monitoring and Evaluation Series
- Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity Module — Webinar
- Meaningful Evidence — Resources
- Nonprofit Answer Guide: Evaluation for Nonprofits
- Power of Reflection: An introduction to participatory evaluation techniques
- Project Evaluation Guide by Imagine Canada
- Theory Maker — A free and open source online tool
- Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact (TRASI)
- What do we mean by ‘impact’?
- Youth Leading Community Change: An Evaluation Toolkit — Rural Youth Development Grant Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture
The following are a few links to some resources as well as organizations that either have done or continue to do some thinking on various evaluation tools, methods, and approaches.
- Advocacy and Social Justice: Measuring Impact — Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
- Developing a Culture of Evaluation — Community Literacy of Ontario
- Evaluation Resources — Sustain Ontario
- Non-Profit Evaluation: A Summary Report of the Partnership Grant Program’s Evaluation Projects — Community Literacy of Ontario
- Package of Evaluation Resources — United Way Toronto & York Region
- USAI (Utility Self-Voicing Access Inter-Relationality) Research Framework — Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres
Capacity-building support and training:
- Collective Impact & Developmental Evaluation — Innoweave
- Customized Evaluation Supports — YouthREX
- EvalU — Capacity Canada
- IMPACT — Ontario Council for International Cooperation
- Evaluating Community Impact & Collective Impact — Tamarack Institute
- Professional Development — Canadian Evaluation Society-Ontario Chapter
- Program Evaluation Course (Online) — Homeless Hub
- Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices (CEP)
- Beyond Measure? The State of Evaluation and Action in Ontario’s Youth Sector (YouthREX)
- Evaluating Ecosystem Investments (FSG)
- Measuring Performance: Evaluation Practices and Perspectives in Canada’s Voluntary Sector
- Review of Evaluation Frameworks for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education
- Room for Improvement: Foundations’ Support of Nonprofit Performance Assessment (Center for Effective Philanthropy)
- Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency (Center for Effective Philanthropy)
- State of Evaluation 2016 (Innovation Network)
Thank you to our fabulous Advisory Group!
- Charlene Cook/Biljana Zuvela, United Way Toronto & York Region
- Viola Dessanti, Ontario Trillium Foundation
- Brenda Doner, Community Legal Education Ontario
- Sarah Earl, YMCA GTA
- Sarah Haanstra, Toward Common Ground
- Jane Haddad, Seneca College
- Julie Mathien, Government of Ontario (retired)
- Steph McAllister, Timeraiser
- Linda Mollenhauer, Independent Nonprofit Consultant
- Norm Ragetlie, Rural Ontario Institute
- Tim Richardson, Project Canoe
- Helen Yung, Artist and Art Consultant