Evaluation Capacity that Sticks

In honor of Labor Day, and with some grieving for the end of my summer, I’m fully embracing the contributions of others this week.

It takes a village to come up with these blog posts, I guess?

One of my projects this year is an advocacy evaluation capacity-building initiative, in partnership with TCC Group.

I have been really excited to get to work alongside their consultants–having spent a fair amount of time in TCC webinars, to co-present on advocacy evaluation with them is a real gift.

Recently, TCC distributed an article about some of their learning, from this project and others, about how to build evaluation capacity that truly transforms organizational practices, adding net capacity that transcends the period of intense consultant engagement.

It’s something we’ve been talking about a lot in the Kansas context, too: how do we ensure that we’re not just swooping in to do some evaluation with and for these organizations but, instead, helping them to build knowledge and integrate structures that will enable them to take on advocacy evaluation in a sustained and effective way?

A few points from the article and from my engagement with this project, that resonate more broadly, I think, in the consulting and capacity-building fields in general:

  • Organizations have a lot to learn from each other: The organizations in the cohort with which I’m working clamor for more time with each other. Consultants don’t have a lock on knowledge, and not all capacity-building happens within the confines of the consultant-grantee relationship.
  • Learning needs immediate application: One of the challenges with our Kansas project is that it started in the fall which meant that, by the time that organizations had outlined their evaluation questions and begun to select instruments, it was the legislative session and they had no time to implement their ideas. Learning not applied can atrophy quickly, and we’re considering how to restructure the calendar for future cycles with this in mind.
  • We need to acknowledge the resource/capacity link: Of course it’s easy to say that the way we build capacity is to add dollars. Of course. And there’s obviously not a 1:1 relationship between, in this example, evaluation capacity and organizational budgets. But it’s also true that we can learn everything there is to know and still be crippled, in significant ways, by scarce resources, which means that true, sustainable capacity building in any area of organizational functioning has to also take into account how we build organizational capacity. Period.

I believe in the process of helping nonprofit leaders ask good questions about what they’re doing, the impact that it’s having, and what they need to change.

And I want to ensure that they are positioned to keep asking those questions after I move on.

To make a real difference, it has to stick.

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