Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Getting the Most from Independent Evaluations

Most of the CCIs now underway in cities and regions around the country have been launched as foundation-sponsored demonstrations; as such they usually include an evaluation component. Here, from an evaluator’s perspective, are some suggestions for funders and CBOs that will help make the most of the evaluation process.

For funders:

  • Consider the following questions carefully:
    • What kind of evaluation is most appropriate?
    • Do I know enough to make a good choice among evaluators with different notions of how the evaluation should be designed?
    • What do I really want to be measured against?
    • Will the evaluators understand what we’re trying to do?
    • Will they be flexible enough to change their design if the program changes?
  • Spend as much time as necessary before a CCI begins – certainly well before choosing an independent evaluator – to establish clear criteria for judging the kind of evaluation design that makes sense and the characteristics you expect to see in the evaluation team.
  • Be prepared to revisit the original assessment design, as well as the agreed upon work plan and time frame, periodically with the evaluator and your CBO partner. Make adjustments as needed to keep the evaluation relevant to the pace and progress of the initiative.
  • Expect and ask for regular feedback from the evaluation, and create occasions for both formal and informal discussion of evaluation findings with your CBO partners.

For CBOs:

  • Spend time early in the initiative to understand the scope and framework of the evaluation; raise questions or concerns if you have them about the overall design, and identify where there are opportunities along the way for feedback to and from the evaluator. Be sure to clarify expectations about your role in gathering critical evaluation information.
  • Regard evaluation site visits not simply as part of your CCI obligations but as opportunities for your own learning; draw on the evaluators’ often broader experiences to identify best practices in other settings, resources that can help you, and suggestions for program improvement.
  • Recognize that your experiences, positive and negative, are the primary source of learning within a CCI. Use the evaluation as an opportunity to convey to funders and others not only your accomplishments but also the impediments you face in planning and implementing your comprehensive strategies.
  • Consider how to best ensure that the evaluator understands your community and the constraints under which you work.
– Tom Burns, director, OMG Center for Collaborative Learning

(Also see Shelterforce’s special focus issue on evaluation.)

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