Powerful Evaluation on Limited Resources

This post was originally published on AEA365, the blog of the American Evaluation Association on October 2nd, 2014 and can be viewed here.

Hello from Patrick Germain! I am an internal evaluator, professor, blog writer, and the President of New York Consortium of Evaluators.  Working as a nonprofit internal evaluator teaches you a few things about evaluating with very few resources. Even as our sector gets better at using validated evidence for accountability and learning, the resources to support evaluative activities remain elusive.  I have written elsewhere about how nonprofits should be honest with funders about the true costs of meeting their evaluation requirements, but here I want to share some tips and resources for evaluators who are trying to meet higher evaluation expectations than they are receiving funding for.

Hot Tip #1: Don’t reinvent the wheel.

  1. Use existing data collection tools: ask your funder for tools that they might use or check out sites like PerformWell, OERL, The Urban Institute, or others that compile existing measurement instruments.
  2. The internet is your friend. Websites like surveymonkey, d3js (for fancy data viz), chandoo (for excel tips), and countless others have valuable tools and information that evaluators might find useful.  And places like Twitter or AEA365 help you stay on top of emerging resources and ideas.
  3. Modify existing forms or processes to collect data; this can be much more efficient than creating entirely new data collection processes.

Hot Tip #2: Use cheap or free labor.

  1. Look into colleges and universities to find student interns, classes that need team projects, or professors looking for research partners.
  2. Programs like ReServe and your local RSVP group place older adults who are looking to apply their professional skills to part time or volunteer opportunities.
  3. Crowdsourcing or outsourcing through websites like Skillsforchange, HelpFromHome, or Mechanical Turk, can be a cheap way of accomplishing some of the more mundane and time-consuming aspects of your projects.
  4. Organize or join a local hackathon, or find data analysts to volunteer time.

Hot Tip #3: Maximize the value of your efforts.

  1. Use resources allocated for evaluation as an opportunity to build the evaluation capacity of your organization – leverage your investment to help the organization improve its ability to conduct, participate in, and use evaluations.
  2. Focus your efforts on what is needed, be deliberate about eliminating as much unnecessary work as you can, and be very efficient with your time.

What other tools or resources do you use when you have limited resources?

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One thought on “Powerful Evaluation on Limited Resources

  1. Hi Patrick. This is a good read, I am a student in a nonprofit management course and we are currently researching program evaluations. Before this course I was unaware of the complications that come with evaluations in nonprofit organizations. It is fascinating to see how many managers are afraid of evaluations. The excuses of limited evaluating resources seem to be a diversion, possibly to cover something up or in many cases to avoid what they believe will be an extremely stressful process. Others feel that their organization honestly does not have the ability to collect data and complete an evaluation. Your tips for adopting easy and cheap data collection avenues can be applied in these situations and allow an organization to be evaluated and (hopefully) use this information to make appropriate adjustments.

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