A Sector Driven Evaluation Strategy

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.

Our Resources



Follow the links below for more information on all of our resources:

Learning Together: Five Important Discussion Questions to Make Evaluation Useful

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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.

Read the blog post
Read the full guide

Don’t want the whole guide? Skip to the question(s) of interest to you:

Question 1 Question 2 Question 3 Question 4 Question 5

Vision & Principles for Evaluation in Ontario’s Nonprofit Sector

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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.

Read the Blog Post
View the Vision & Principles Document
View the Principles Graphic

Matching Evaluation Approaches to Expectations 2.0

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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.

Read the Blog Post
View the Graphic

Evaluation Literature Review

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.

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Read the Blog Post
Read the Executive summary
Read the full report

Evaluation should be useful. However, evaluation research suggests that the factors that are most likely to cause an evaluation to lead action have less to do with how good you are at designing a survey or developing a logic model (though both can be helpful) and more to do with how stakeholders view and participate in the process.

Check out this short video on the six factors:

6 Simple Tips For Communicating About Impact

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This resource includes strategies designed to help you get into the habit of talking about your work in impact language.

Download the Resource

Slide Deck

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.

Our Evaluation Podcasts

Episode 3 (2017.05.25)

Interviewee: Jade Huguenin, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC)
Music: Podington Bear

Description: In our third evaluation podcast, Andrew and Ben chat with Jade Huguenin from the OFIFC about their work, the context of evaluation in indigenous communities, and the importance of a community driven approach.

:55 – Introducing Jade and the OFIFC
2:30 – How did Jade become a researcher?
5:01 – Evaluation has been a controversial process. Is it an uphill battle to re-frame evaluation or do people get it?
7:48 – The importance of empowering voices and a community driven approach.
9:53 – What’s in the OFIFC’s new evaluation framework?
12:03 – Elaborating on the “background grid” of the Evaluation Path. Example of the Tree of Peace and how to reach the good life in relation to evaluation.
15:00 – What is the USAI Research Framework and why is it important?
18:01 – An example of a local community using the USAI principles.
20:46 – Andrew plays devil’s advocate. What about “credible data?”
23:20 – Analogy to baking a cake and a reminder that evaluation should always be for the community.
23:41 – If you could change anything about the way evaluation is done, what would you change?
25:17 – Is the intent to also use the USAI principles to speak to funders about evaluation and its issues?
26:43 – Provincial networks like OFIFC and ONN are crucial players in helping to create space to talk about evaluation. “We’re stronger together.”
28:10 – What would Jade like to explore further when it comes to evaluation?
29:26 – What is the role of an evaluator?
31:13 – Where can people find more information about OFIFC and its work?

Episode 2 (2017.01.31)

Interviewee: Marie Zimmerman, Hillside Festival
Music: Podington Bear

Description: In our second evaluation podcast, Andrew and Ben sit down with Marie Zimmerman from Hillside Festival to chat evaluation and how it benefits the festival and its patrons.


1:16 – Introducing Marie and Hillside Festival
1:55 – How does Hillside build its culture of learning and evaluation?
3:02 – Why is it important for Hillside to do evaluation?
4:50 – Do you have to convince people to look at evaluation data?
5:46 – Asking the right questions
7:08 – Example of doing a survey/research that led to insight. Reference: Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance by Alan Brown and Jennifer Novak
9:54 – Impact of Hillside on Andrew’s family
10:31 – How do you justify evaluation in an era when resources are limited and it is difficult just to keep your head above water?
11:59 – A story of failure
15:38 – Could funders work with you to help you do evaluation better? Or is the situation fine as is?
18:20 – It’s not only about how much we spend.
19:04 – What would you change in the evaluation system to make it work better for you?
19:53 – Where is the nonprofit sector’s Alan Brown?
20:59 – Favourite act or moment from Hillside

Episode 1 (2016.04.13)

Interviewee: Chanel Grenaway, Canadian Women’s Foundation
Music: Podington Bear
Description: 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.

:41 – How Chanel got into evaluation, what the Canadian Women’s Foundation is all about, and what she loves about her job.
2:18 – When did evaluation really work well and what made it work well?
5:01 – What evaluation framework does the Canadian Women’s Foundation use? (Sustainable Livelihoods)
5:22 – Grantee input into evaluation
6:43 – Factors that led to success
7:56 – Did it make Chanel nervous having grantees and donors at the same table?
9:31 – How is evaluation used?
10:40 – How much communication happens between stakeholders?
11:29 – How are challenges navigated?
13:39 – What can others learn from how the Canadian Women’s Foundation approaches evaluation?
15:40 – What lessons can other grantmakers learn from your experience?
16:44 – How do you deal with rolling up information from different grantees?
17:54 – Misconceptions about evaluation
19:24 – What do you still want to learn?
20:59 – Chanel changes the system of evaluation
22:55 – Final thoughts

Our Blog Posts

We explore some of the key issues, challenges, and ways to move forward in our blog posts below.

 Our Comic Series

We developed a comic series to explore key themes in our conversations with the sector about nonprofit evaluation.

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Click below to view the comics at full size.

View Comic 1 View Comic 2 View Comic 3 View Comic 4 Comic 4 GIF

Our Webinars, Presentations, and Project Recap Timeline

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):

See how our project evolved as well as some key highlights via this visual timeline.

We can’t do it alone.

A few helpful external resources

Here are a few resources we’ve come across from around the web.

Arts focused:

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.


Capacity-building support and training:

Want to know more or have something to share? Contact Ben Liadsky, Evaluation Program Associate at ben@theonn.ca.

This work was made possible thanks to a Partnership Grant through the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI).

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