Reimagining Evaluation in London

On Monday, a group of about 50 people from the London region are going to spend all day creating a new vision for evaluation in our community.

We’re going to spend time together, working through the following question:

What might happen if we reimagined the role of evaluation in the London community?

But wait, AH, wait stop, Adam, the word evaluation can mean many things: “For the purpose of this post, what is this evaluation that you speak of?”

Reasons for doing evaluation, as articulated by a group at the end of August 2017.

For the purposes of this post, let’s use a definition from Michael Quinn Patton:

“Evaluation is the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and results of programs to make judgments about the program, improve or further develop program effectiveness, inform decisions about future programming, and/or increase understanding.”

Or alternatively, we could use the Sunday morning version that my brain can process:

“Evaluations are processes of learning stuff so that we can do our work better.”

Okay, so let’s return to that opening question: “What might happen if we reimagined the role of evaluation in the London community?”

I suppose, in order to reimagine a thing, you have to have a sense of what it is in the present. If you don’t, I guess you’re not really reimagining—you’re just kinda thinking. Perhaps that’s okay too? I think that it is. So, let’s put it this way, a group of us going to spend a day challenging each other to name the impact that evaluation has and could have on our community.

Each person is going to enter the room with their own understanding of the impact that evaluation has on our community right now. We’re going to talk about grant reporting, impact measurement, metrics/indicators/KPIs/etc., and a whole host of other things. However, at the core I hope that we keep one key question at the front of our minds: “Why? Why do we even do this?”

I go through peaks and valleys when it comes to evaluation. Sometimes I think that it’s the most boring subject in the world and sometimes I find myself passionately articulating the difference between an indicator and an outcome (don’t ask me to do it now, I’ll probably get it wrong). In the moments of passion, especially the ones where I’m not letting my ego get in the way, I often feel stuck because it feels like I’m asking the wrong questions or the right questions to the wrong people.

Perhaps my hope for Monday is somewhere in this —maybe I’d like a vision of evaluation that helps us to ask better questions to more of the right people so that we do a better job of aligning our organizations with the needs of the people that we work with? Do we have to accept a vision of evaluation that focuses on reporting to funders, governments, donors, and boards? Or maybe, just maybe, can we adopt a vision of evaluation that helps our organizations to become more direct expressions of the people who we think that we’re helping? Whether we’re “a group of waste-pickers aided by support staff dedicated to improving their economic opportunities, and reducing the stigma they face as informal recyclable collectors” or a “a global learning network of activists, community workers, and social entrepreneurs who believe that the best way for our organizations to create deep and lasting change in the world is to embody it” we should probably think of our organizational existence as an expression of need, defined by our members.

If we were to reimagine the role of evaluation in the London community, I think that we might just see the value in hiring our members (some people might say end-users, beneficiaries, etc. — these aren’t quite synonyms, but these terms might help you to place who I’m thinking about) to help lead our organizations.

If we were to reimagine the role of evaluation in the London community we might ask:

  • Who are nonprofit and social enterprise staff supporting and to what degree are we responding to the needs articulated by that ‘who’?
  • Are we acting in accordance with what we hear?
  • How confident are we that our outcomes and goals are right?
  • How and to what extent should members call the shots in our organizations
  • What is the role of our staff?
  • Beyond financial relationships, who are we actually accountable to? What does accountability mean?
  • Who really holds the knowledge that we need to be confident that we are doing good?

I’d sign up for a vision of evaluation that helped London to grapple with these questions. Let’s see what comes up on Monday and where we end up!

Follow #evalcamp and @PillarNN to get involved with our discussion on Monday.

For more details on the event, click here