Why evaluating impact is so fraught and what we can do about it

Below are links to a paper I wrote exploring why evaluating impact is so fraught and how communities, NGOs, funders and evaluators can work together better.   The paper, entitled Building a better ecosystem for supporting our communities and the role of evaluation, was was written for the journal “Evaluation Matters – He Take Tō Te Aromatawai”, based on my keynote presentation to the excellent and enlightening 2016 Conference of the Aotearoa New Zealand Evaluation Association.

In this paper I explore the inter-relationships between communities, NGOs, funders and evaluators using an imaginary but plausible story, and from this draw lessons on how we can work together better to support our communities.  The bottom line?  “The relationships and dynamics between the various players in the ecosystem – communities, NGOs, funders and evaluators – are not as good as they could be.  Happily, there is much we can do to improve this.”

Thanks to the many people whose wisdom has informed this work, especially Christina Howard, Kate McKegg and Fiona Cram.



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  1. Kate, what an excellent analysis and dissection of the issues.

    I have no experience in this area, yet was able quickly to come to grips with what’s at stake, thanks to the clarity and pragmatism of your argument.

    Thanks for a brilliant read, for rendering a complex situation accessible to the ultimate layperson, and for topping it all off with a suite of solutions for those involved in this line of work.

    Well done.

  2. The voice of reason as always Kate. Unfortunately many NGOs bear a significant burden in proving themselves in a competitive philanthropic sector.

    But on the positive , evaluation also has many internal benefits and reassures Boards and Management Teams they are having a positive impact, resources are allocated effectively and importantly provides opportunties to recognise staff and best practice.

    Also evaluation and impact reporting
    when done well can bring funders along on your journey and this in itself can be incredibly exciting and motivating for all.

    The challenge is having the opportunity and resources to put in place appropriate evaluation tools and measurement as this is often a specialist skill that is often difficult to find funding for.

  3. Really well written Kate and clear about the realities, dilemmas, paradoxes and challenges for all involved!! Getting people/stakeholders to understand their part in doing differently is key if we’re going to change things. Your analysis above totally backs up comments by Mark Cabaj who says it’s high time we stopped expecting social innovators to be evaluators too – both require quite different skillsets, with super humans who can do everything very light on the ground! In my experience too, faced with the reality of limited resources and competing priorities, communities will choose to ‘do things’ rather than measure, count, monitor/evaluate. I don’t blame them…..

    1. Thank you Kate, a detailed and robust analysis with practical recommendations. Your call for ‘ making meaning together’ is the definition for ideal communication, a principle often lost in a bureaucratic world.

  4. I have just re-read this Kate and it’s very full and from my perspective, very accurate and insightful. Megan C, yes, you too “hit the nail on the head” about communities just want to do stuff. I have a memory of when the Housing Trust was asked to develop evaluation of the Trusts capacity for a government compliance process. My response then and now is “have a look at the quality of the homes the trust has built and talk to the people who tenant them”. They said that was insufficient.
    For a team of highly skilled and dedicated Trustees who give their time for FREE, (philanthropy in action), to be asked to prove they have systems and procedures in place at every level of the organisation is just ludicrous. If there is clear evidence like this of their fulfilling their mission, then enough already.

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