If your foundation is developing a new grantmaking program or initiative, it’s critical to concurrently develop plans for how you will evaluate success. But before jumping into methodologies and measurements, think about these three questions: What you want to know? Who needs to know it? and How will the findings be used? This will help you focus your evaluation design and scope.
1 – What do you want to know? This should be based on your goals and objectives, and the impact you want to have. What are the three most critical things you want to learn? In five years when you look back on this effort, what information will give you confidence that you were successful? Keep in mind that different audiences will want to learn about different aspects of the project so understanding the key audiences for your evaluation findings and their needs will be critical.
2 – Who needs to know it? Your evaluation findings have many possible audiences, depending upon the scope of the project. This might include your board, your foundation management, board and management of other funders, grantees, key institutions in the field (e.g., educators, service providers), policymakers, practitioners, individuals and communities who are beneficiaries or who are impacted by this project, and the media. It is helpful to identify your primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences, and involve them in evaluation planning. It is also useful to consider in advance how each audience prefers to receive evaluation information (e.g., does the board want a two-page summary with bullets, a presentation, or a comprehensive evaluation report?)
3 – How will evaluation findings be used? When designing your evaluation, it helps to consider in advance how your foundation plans to use the findings. This will help you determine the evaluation scope and design, the type of products resulting from the evaluation, and the timing. It will also inform your communications plan. For example, will your initiative incorporate findings into a continuous learning process? Will your board make annual funding recommendations, requiring status reports and presentations at board meetings? How will negative evaluation findings be handled?
Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2013.