Guest post by Steve Patty, Ph.D., founder and principal of Dialogues in Action, LLC
Designing evaluation is often drudgery. Doing evaluation is even more painful. We would rather be right in the middle of the action—leading, teaching, creating—than stepping back to think about how to measure our effects or to inquire into the qualities of our results. Sometimes evaluation just feels like an afterthought. And who wants to waste time or energy on an afterthought?
But what if evaluation could be more than that?
What if we could actually strengthen our strategy, clarify our aims, develop connoisseurship for subtle but significant features in people, raise leaders, and even improve our ability to draw and engage others in our mission through evaluation?
What if evaluation could help us see better, think better, focus better, and grow our leaders and our organizations better?
Evaluation would be as much a tool for organizational and leadership development as it would be a duty of reporting, accreditation, compliance, funding, and advancement.This kind of evaluation would be intriguing and powerful. It would get us to what really matters. This kind of evaluation would be leadership.
We have to think differently about evaluation. Here are a twelve helpful points of orientation:
- Evaluation is leadership. It holds great power to focus everyone on what really matters.
- Watch effect, not just effort. The temptation to measure output instead of outcome is strong and worth resisting.
- Simple and elegant is best. Evaluation should get us to the essence of impact smoothly and meaningfully.
- All evaluation is educative. It signals what is important, and what is not important, to all.
- Beware of vanity metrics. We tend to seek data to confirm the best parts of our work and suppress the parts less developmental.
- Participation is powerful. If people can see for themselves, they will have greater appreciation for the insight and be more motivated to action.
- Evaluation is best when it is iterative. As our theory of change evolves, so should our evaluation.
- Good evaluation is half strategy. Intention and reflection are inseparable.
- Making people critics of themselves is better than making them critics of us. In most cases, teaching people pay attention to their own growth and development is more productive than teaching them to be critical of our programs and interventions.
- Avoid the naturalistic fallacy. Just because data can be collected does not mean that they should be collected.
- There is no short-cut to insight. It takes effort to see impact deeply.
- Metrics are people too. In our kind of work, every metric has human cause and context.
Evaluation is a way of thinking, seeing, talking, and acting. Evaluation strengthens our ability to improve our services and prove our impact thus allowing us to truly effect the change we most wish to see. Come to learn how to design effective evaluation; come to gain the ability to get to what truly matters.
Steve Patty is founder and principal of Dialogues In Action, LLC, a consulting firm that helps leaders of organizations rethink the development of people. Dialogues in Action provides qualitative research to enhance organizational health and culture; designs educational processes to maximize human capital; and grows leadership development strategies within human service organizations.