Change, Impact, and the Evaluative Mind

As an evaluator I am usually called in to measure change and impact, not to create them. Yet once in a while an organization or a community will bring me in to become one of the agents of a change they want to create. These are my favorite clients.

An evaluator can be to a community organization as the traffic control tower is to a plane in the air: it keeps the organization “on course”. But more importantly, evaluation can be a “soul searching experience”. It can provide rare and precious opportunities to reflect on our everyday work and how it makes a difference in the world. The insights from this process crystalize into lessons learned, values and principles that fuel new initiatives, and new ways of working.

Those of my clients who have successfully used evaluation processes for creating change and impact have several things in common:

Inquisitive mind: they involve an evaluator from day one of a new program or initiative. The evaluator becomes a mirror for the program, documenting the reality that unfolds once ideas have been applied “in the field”.

Courage and vulnerability: they are not afraid to acknowledge their mistakes and challenges, and use evaluative processes to reflect on them. Evaluation results allow them to share the challenges with stakeholders and to ask for input.

Harvesting and reinvesting: Organizations that excel at creating impact often use evaluation to harvest the knowledge internalized in day-to-day practice. They find ways to reinvest this knowledge for improved quality of work, innovation or project expansion. Our clients have used evaluative processes to formulate theories of change, to develop program logic models, standards for quality and quality assurance frameworks, to turn their implicit partnership agreements into explicit contracts, and to identify critical success factors so that they can replicate and expand the program.

Reaching out and sharing: I like working with clients that seek to create change, because my work won’t be exiled into a dusty corner of someone’s computer drive in the form of a report that nobody reads. These clients ask for slide decks that can be posted on a website to showcase their achievements and challenges. They ask for papers that distill the lessons and best practices from their work so that they can be shared with others. And the best of all: they invite me to present evaluation results to their teams and stakeholders. The evaluation reporting becomes the catalyst for reflection and envisioning new opportunities. We generate ideas for change together. Then they identify the “three first steps” on the spot, and assign deadlines and action leaders. Change has been set into motion.

Photo: Elga Nikolova
Elga Nikolova, Principal
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