Cross-post: Evaluation in the Hot Seat: Taking on Current Criticisms
This post originally appeared on Medium by Sarah Stachowiak, CEO of ORS Impact. This post provides and overview of the session held at GEO’s 2019 Learning Conference and provides links to additional blog posts hightlighting the thinking and reflections of the speakers. To read the complete post and access the full blog series, please visit the original post here.
I’m an evaluator.
If you don’t work in the social sector, you probably don’t know what that means. If you do, you may well have a negative reaction. While I strongly believe that inquiry into the work of foundations and nonprofits can lead to stronger, more equitable improvements for people and places, many people have had bad experiences with evaluation: feeling like complex work is put into meaningless boxes, not measuring what actually matters to satisfy a funder, being forced to engage in activities that feel irrelevant, or potentially harmful, to the populations people are trying to help.
While these criticisms of evaluation have been around for decades, others have received attention more recently, with prominent voices saying that the concept of effectiveness has screwed nonprofits and the people we serve and exacerbates inequities. Attending philanthropy conferences, many of us in the evaluation field have come away feeling a distinct anti-evaluation undercurrent, with the focus on minimizing burden and trusting grantees somehow pitted against evaluation that interrogates outcomes and supports continuous learning.
While I believe evaluation can be a tool for good, I also understand where these criticisms are coming from. Evaluators and funders aren’t always doing enough to make sure we focus evaluation where it can have the most value for grantees (and not just funders). We need to do better at acknowledging complexity, acting with cultural competence, and using our work as a tool to battle inequity. But I staunchly believe that we can improve it. Abandoning evaluation and viewing it as the enemy of the good won’t get us to the transformed systems and society we need to see meaningful change in our world.
With all this in mind, I asked a group of four brilliant thinkers to consider a critique they were wrestling with in their work and create a pecha kucha talk about it: six minutes and forty seconds of focused thought on laying out a problem and proposing some solutions.
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