Evaluation is a helpful tool to support many different decisions within an organization. Evaluation can take on many forms (e.g., summative, formative, developmental, outcomes, process, implementation, etc.), and the first step is to identify what kind of evaluation will be most useful to you right now. Regardless of whether you need to measure your outcomes or refine your processes, in order to plan your evaluation you will first need to get a handle on these four questions:
- What are you trying to accomplish with your work? What are your goals? How do you hope to change the community, the individuals you serve, the policies or systems in which you operate?
- What are you doing to get there? What are the activities you’ve chosen to work toward your goals? Do you operate one program or many? Do you lobby for policy changes? Do you run educational campaigns? How do your activities align with your goals?
- How stable are your activities year over year? Does your program run like a well-oiled machine with clear rules for operation? Are you looking to make improvements to how you carry out your activities, or changes to your mix of activities? Do you plan to remain nimble in your actions, responsive to changes in the environment, rather than pursuing a fixed set of activities?
- What are you hoping to gain from the evaluation? Do you need to document your outcomes for a sponsor or granting agency? Are you looking for ways to improve your internal communications or efficiencies? Do you need to determine which of your strategies is the most effective to pursue going forward?
Answering these questions will help determine the kind of evaluation you need, and also help to identify any gaps between what you’re doing and where you’re trying to get. Together they will put you on the path to a productive evaluation plan.