30 Nov So You Think You Can Measure? Reflections from the Next Generation Evaluation Conference
By Sacha Litman
Next Generation Evaluation was a synergy of brilliant ideas by some of evaluation’s foremost authorities. Big kudos to hosts SSIR and FSG for getting foundations, nonprofits and governments thinking about new trends in evaluation while both de-mystifying the terms and refining “older” concepts.
Having worked for ten years on collective impact, big data, and developmental evaluation solutions (even before these concepts were en vogue), I’ve had the opportunity to see numerous organi-zations grow in their efficacy and impact. But I also have seen the challenges inherent in adopting a next generation approach.
For those of you thinking of expanding your evaluation into the realms addressed by the conference, keep in mind “the 4 F’s,” which are four important guideposts to ensuring the best possi-ble outcome of your next generation effort:
Find your answer to WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) When undertaking any project, especially collaboration, be sure to articulate your individual goals. We’ve seen organizations lose sight of their vision because it was never defined outright in the first place. An example of successful goal articulation across tiered levels of stake-holders comes from our work with Americorp’s America Reads Mississippi campaign. The campaign aimed to improve statewide reading levels at the elementary level and involved inputs from individual teachers, school administrators, regional directors, and state government leaders. The project successfully provided outputs that considered each of these stakeholder’s goals. Read more: [Markets for Good: http://www.marketsforgood.org/social-returns-and-whats-in-it-for-me/]
Focus on culture and behavior change, not data systems. When becoming data-driven, it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal—to improve organizations and their effectiveness. Don’t be blindsided by the data system itself as the answer; it is what you do with the data that matters. For example, we’re working with LiveSTRONG to ensure that their data-collection efforts, which started from a data for data’s sake perspective, are now tracking specific success measures, such as activities completed, people served and outreach accomplished across a va-riety of partners. LiveSTRONG had been tracking similar metrics before our work together, however they are now able to click a button and see those figures by month and by year, alongside other variables. What is im-portant is that that the organization has started to integrate analytics into their regular meeting schedule in an effort to incorporate data into their operational effectiveness.
Follow the correlations between activities and desired outcomes. Correlation analysis allows you to accu-rately pinpoint the drivers behind the outcomes you want to see. We’ve worked with many independent schools and have noticed a relatively high correlation between how likely parents are to recommend a school to a friend and how proactive that school is at communicating student needs to parents. Schools seeking posi-tive word-of-mouth can thus affect their perception by being communicative with parents, a relative simple task with great reward.
Factor in data’s power. Never forget that the owners of data are the ones with power. Using data as a tool for capacity building—allowing management teams to make better decisions—requires the owners of data to share it and use it constructively, not critically. When organizations have nothing to fear from data-driven anal-ysis, but are encouraged by data owners (often managers, foundations, or evaluators) to embrace the some-times “hard truths” that come from it, data will be a positive agent of change.
The next generation of evaluation is indeed upon us. We are equipped with exceptional tools to perform mean-ingful analysis. It is integral to evaluation’s success, however, that goal articulation, culture change, correlation assessment, and capacity-building are major foci of any evaluative effort. After attending the conference, I am confident that the field is entering an exciting stage of growth. We will only continue to see a more robust pic-ture of evaluation unfold. I look forward to more opportunities to share and learn from each other, as we enter the next generation together.
Sacha Litman is the Founder and Managing Director of Measuring Success, a strategy consulting firm dedicated to developing quantitative tools and models to enhance non-profits’ organizational effectiveness, and is also CEO of GrapeVine.