Seeds for Thought: Negative Results

Whether you are evaluator of a program or someone associated with the initiative being evaluted (the evaluatee?), it’s probably safe to say that everyone hopes for good results: proof that all the planning, effort, and resources that went into the program made a difference. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen, leaving the evaluator to figure out how to present the information accurately and constructively.

Susan Lilley recently compiled a ten-point list (PDF) on this topic, based on discussion from the American Evaluation Association’s listserv (Hat tip to the Better Evaluation blog which provides some more context on the discussion and some commentary on the points). To my eye, all the points are great – in particular, #4 (“Build in time for course correction”) and #8 (“Present results in terms of lessons learned”) provide a great rationale for a developmental evaluation approach that understands from the get-go that some components of any given project will need to be tweaked or changed wholesale in response to changing circumstances. What I really appreciate about this list, however, is the very first point – “Use a participatory approach from the start”. Engaging stakeholders and working as a partner with clients are more than “feel-good” tactics: they help create a sense of ownership of the results and builds that crucial relationship that allows for sharing both good and bad news, as well as having a frank discussion as to what the results mean for future work.

What tip do you think is most crucial for sharing negative results? If you have been on the giving or receiving end of bad evaluation news, what helped turn the episode into something constructive? Share below!

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