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Move Over, Dilbert! Introducing The Evaluation Comic Series

For years, no one asked us the question, ‘why doesn’t ONN do a comic series?’ Luckily, however, through our work to develop a Sector Driven Evaluation Strategy, someone finally did. The result is an ONN milestone: our first ever comic series! 

Image for Evaluation blog - Accountability vs LearningThe evaluation comic series** is inspired by one of the key themes in our conversations with the sector about nonprofit evaluation: when evaluation is undertaken primarily because it is required by a funder, it is much less likely to lead to action. When the focus is on critical reflection, learning, and action, things tend to go better. In this comic, we present to you the tale of a funder, nonprofit, and fork in the evaluation road where the path is determined by whether learning or accountability is prioritized.

Image for Evaluation Comic Series - Part 1 - Scene 1



In the top half of the comic, our dynamic duo work together and align their interests. Each of their evaluation needs is addressed through open and clear communication, trust, and collaboration. Through the evaluation process, key learnings emerge that are put into action. As a result, our dynamic duo are joined by a range of excited community members to celebrate the opening of a new community centre.

In short, the top half of the comic tells us about the potential for meaningful outcomes that comes from an evaluation focused on learning.

Of course, for all the excellent evaluation work that can and does take place in the nonprofit sector, there is also another side to this story that is represented by the lower half frames.

Image for Evaluation Comic Series - Part 1 - Scene 2Here, we explore what happens when our dynamic duo are not on the same page, and where accountability is the sole purpose of the evaluation. In this scenario, our funder and nonprofit are having very different experiences. Our nonprofit friend is frustrated with unclear expectations and communication, while our funder friend is concerned primarily with checking boxes of accountability. The result? Much time and resources have been wasted…and no community centre has been built. The opportunity for the evaluation to lead to action has been missed.

The takeaway

Our first evaluation comic presents two scenarios. Each shows the far end of the spectrum of how an evaluation can work in the nonprofit sector. To be clear, we’re not claiming that an evaluation always leads to community centres being built, nor are we saying that nonprofit staff are always working late into the night on their evaluation reports. We are also not saying that accountability is a bad thing — indeed, nonprofits by and large understand the need for accountability. We know the sector is diverse as are the experiences that many have doing evaluation. However, if we can begin to move the evaluation needle more toward an attitude of learning, we might just be able to feel more like the guy with his arms raised high in the top right frame — ecstatic beyond reason.

**Comic purists note: we are aware this ‘comic’ is more of a graphic representation than pure comic. However, our evaluation program associate assured himself that this graphic representation is somewhat funny, thus qualifying it as a “comic”.



  1. Randy Thornhill Says: June 3, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Hello Ben;
    Great article and summarization of a sector challenge. I think you could also move the analysis down a level, inside organisations, where you can have the same disconnect between program delivery and evaluation. If practitioners believe that evaluation is only for reporting to funders, it is not embraced as a learning opportunity about effectiveness and client impact. Thanks.