“If You Can’t Evaluate it, You Can’t Improve It”

By Javier Arza PhD. Teacher and researcher

Evaluation has become an indispensable tool in these times of crisis and uncertainty, and it helps us find solutions that are more effective and tailored to people's needs and expectations.

In organizations, evaluation allows to generate information in three essential domains: decision-making, organizational learning and accountability to the various sectors related to the service or program evaluated.

The evaluation process requires adequate instruments and methodologies. However, although necessary, those are not sufficient. A number of factors may hinder or otherwise influence the application of such methodology and techniques. Related literature in this field has documented five essential factors:

The quality of the planning in the program or service to be evaluated. A program or a service which has no preliminary diagnosis or adequately defined objectives, or lacking internal coherence between diagnosis, objectives and actions, is difficult to assess.

The quality of available information systems. A thorough evaluative work is made more difficult when systematically collected quality data is scarce.

Evaluation purposes must be clear. It should be clear if the purpose is to evaluate the process, outcomes, or impacts of a given program or service; in addition, all stakeholders should receive information about these purposes in each of the evaluation's various phases.

Resources for evaluation: cost, timeframe and human resources.

The attitude of the various stakeholders towards the evaluation process, more particularly from those who must provide information and will afterwards participate in the implementation of recommendations. If some people happen to consider the evaluation process as a control procedure or a mere promotional strategy for the organization, or if they have a poor capacity for self-criticism and low acceptance of external criticism… it will then make it much more difficult for them to actively and loyally participate in the evaluation process.

There are two basic concepts in the evaluation field. Firstly, let's mention the evaluation criteria, which can be defined as a level of analysis that must be observed before making any value judgment about our program or service (for example: satisfaction of users, program or service effectiveness).  When designing an evaluation process, it is necessary to bear in mind what are the criteria agreed upon in a defined sector of activity.

Secondly, we have to rely on standards, that is to say, our commitment as an organization to achieve the desired outcome in each criterion. These standards should be established according to the strategic planning of the organization, but also to the current legislation in the sector as well as to the amount of knowledge generated by research and best practices.

Finally, we should emphasize two strategic elements in the completion period of the evaluation process. It is essential to communicate the outcomes of the process (both internally and externally). One will all the better take advantage of the efforts made and apply recommendations if the communication strategy has been well prepared.Lastly, it is essential to apply the recommendations which complete the evaluation process. As we have pointed it out in this article, the evaluation process should help improve the intervention. In this regard, the evaluation results must develop into a plan for improvement.

In conclusion, monitoring and evaluating our programs and services is essential to estimate the progress achieved towards results and objectives. Moreover, a well-prepared and well-led evaluation process reflects the transparency we owe to our beneficiaries, donors and other stakeholders. This is why all nonprofit organizations should strive to develop a shared culture of evaluation.