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Tools You Can Use

Create a "Culture of Evaluation"

Information Gold Mine: Innovative Uses of Evaluation

Create a Culture of Evaluation
    Involve staff
    Review, discuss, and act on findings
    Get top-down endorsement


From Vince Hyman, former Publishing Director, Fieldstone Alliance:

IN OUR LAST ISSUE of Tools You Can Use, we discussed innovative uses of evaluation, including uses for marketing, fundraising, policy advocacy, boosting staff morale, and, of course, continuous improvement.

But readying your organization for these uses means you have to shift your thinking. You need to create a culture of evaluation—an approach that gets all staff enthused about collecting good information and making data-based improvements.

This issue of Tools is excerpted from chapter 5 of our newest book, Information Gold Mine: Innovative Uses of Evaluation, by Paul Mattessich, et al., available for $17.95.

Create a Culture of Evaluation
Cartoon: Three scientists in the lab have grown an evaluation cultureYou don’t need a degree in psychology to know that individuals tend to do what they like and tend to avoid what they dislike. You also know that getting people to try something new requires motivation. They have to see the benefit, and they have to overcome the usual human fears and discomfort that change brings.

Therefore, a critical ingredient for developing and maintaining momentum within your organization to use program evaluation is the establishment of a positive, productive image of program evaluation and its use within your organization’s culture. Here are some ways to go about that:

  • Involve all appropriate staff in the development of evaluation
  • Have staff regularly review, discuss, and act on evaluation findings
  • Board members and top leadership must own and act on the evaluation findings

Involve staff
From the moment you begin considering evaluation, involve staff in its design. Involvement creates a sense of ownership. People feel better when they own a process than when they perceive that a process is imposed on them. In addition, involvement offers the opportunity for staff to become more comfortable with program evaluation and eliminate any fears they might have about how program evaluation will be used (or misused).

Review, discuss, and act on findings
Most staff members want to improve what they do, and they want to increase the value of their work for the people your organization serves. Develop a process for regular review of program evaluation information and for discussions with staff concerning how to improve your organization’s work. Devote some staff meeting time to looking at the findings from your evaluation research.

If client satisfaction ratings are lower than you like, ask staff to develop a strategy to do something different and improve the ratings. If you see that outcomes are better for one type of client than for another, ask staff why that might be. Then, take some action. It does not have to involve a major overhaul of your activities. Perhaps form a task force to explore different ways of providing service to the group with poorer outcomes, and then try providing service differently to see if that group can improve. This visible activity will set a tone and establish norms that nurture program evaluation and its use in your organization.

The staff of Wilder Research, who did the background research for Information Gold Mine, learned this from the 40 program leaders they interviewed. For example, one person said, “I guess the most important thing we learned is that we have to build a receptiveness and willingness to change based on evaluation results. We need to build in regular or annual self-reflection—so that the evaluation isn’t just a snapshot, but continues to affect ourselves and the way we accomplish our mission. If it’s only a onetime look, it’s there and gone and it has limited effect. If it changes the organization to being consciously on the lookout for the kinds of things that the evaluation points out, it becomes incorporated into the organizational culture.”

Get top-down endorsement
Pull out quote: It's amazing how many programs run evaluations and the top leadership has no clue of the results.Endorsement of program evaluation and its use by the board and senior management provides an official statement that evaluation is important. That’s one step to take. Beyond that, the board and senior management need to model the behavior they want to see within the rest of the organization. They need to use the information creatively. This can occur, for example, in the following ways:

  • Review and discuss the program evaluation findings at board meetings
  • Require that reports about program activities include measures of outcomes
  • Suggest ways that evaluation findings can go into public documents and communications to other agencies or the general public
  • Meet with staff to discuss program evaluation findings and how to follow up with them

One interviewee offered this advice: “Be prepared to talk about the evaluation findings. The executive director should read the evaluation. It’s amazing how many programs run evaluations and the top leadership has no clue of the results. Make sure that you understand and know what’s in the evaluation because people are going to ask you. Be prepared to discuss your plan for improving.”

Evaluation has little value if it’s not used. Creative program managers are taking the results of their evaluations and using them to modify their program models, change job requirements, lobby for new regulations, conduct PR activities, increase the size and number of grants they get, and so much more.

These uses become possible when the organization values evaluation. Evaluation should never be about proving the “worth” of your program. It should always be about improving service on behalf of your mission. Creating a culture of evaluation is the surest way to get your organization to that goal.


Vince Hyman
Publishing Director
Fieldstone Alliance

June 20, 2007


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