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Making friends with evaluation

Making friends with evidence and evaluation is a presentation made to the 2015 Health and Disability NGO Forum in Wellington, on how to make evidence and evaluation your friend. It is about how you can make measuring and evaluating an ally, a really valued activity which guides what you do and how. The presentation discusses these three things:

  • The mindset and framing you bring to evaluation
  • What you can do in-house regardless of the size, type and scale of your organisation
  • Some things to consider when getting outside help.

Understanding and communicating messy, complex reality can be lonely work for those inside organisations trying to get to grips with what the organisation is doing and the difference it is making. This can be compounded by funding and time pressures, lots of scattered attention and low priority given to evaluation and telling your story.

Evaluation is a way of thinking and the quality of thinking and attention you bring to it drives what you get from it. Good evaluative work brings the head, heart and hand together in the right ways to tell a clear story.

You need the right questions, the right evidence, the right sense making process and clear implications for action. If you have too much emphasis on the analytical, the thinking, or too much weight is given to ‘hard data’, the people and richness of the work you do gets lost – the complexity is dumbed down and it feels soulless and empty. If there is only rich stories, people sharing their feelings or opinions, too much qualitative information without the rigor of hard edged changes or data behind it, then it feels wishy washy, especially for funders.

The sense making process involves intuition as well as evidence. It involves values, interpretation and the application of wisdom and experience. Clear implications for practice, that guide the hand, should be the result. You need these three together to create shifts and track and tell your story.