A Taste of Evaluation

Hanging out in a coworking space – like the Two Twenty in Saskatoon, Strong Roots’ home-away-from-home-office – provides many benefits, but one of the greatest is the mix of people and ideas in the space. As an example, over lunch today I overheard a conversation about writing restaurant reviews, which (being the research nerd I am) got me thinking about evaluation. Two pieces of advice came out of that chat that are just as applicable for non-profit programs as they are for lunch plates:

  • Find a balance between positive and negative. An honest review or evaluation is not the same as free PR: thoughtful and constructive critiques should be the standard. On the other hand, highlighting every minor problem or shortcoming can be equally problematic, especially if this form of reporting overshadows legitimate strengths and successes.
  • Keep context in mind. There should be a difference between a $5 sandwich from a food truck and a $20 sandwich served in a high-end restaurant: likewise, a newly-formed grassroots organization may not have the same scale of impact as an established service provider with a budget that’s larger by several orders of magnitude. While keeping the first point in mind, a reviewer could provide the smaller program with some leeway for shortcomings (especially if it shows potential in other areas), while the larger organization should demonstrate stronger impact given the resources and experience it has at hand. The hope is that both types of organization will “punch at its weight”, if not above it.

Both of these concepts ultimately point to the purpose of a review or evaluation. Undoubtedly, there is an informational aspect: interested parties, be they potential restaurant patrons or funders and other stakeholders, would like to know whether something of value exists to invest their time and money in. These reports, however, also have a second audience, namely those who falling under the microscope. An evaluation that identifies both what’s working well and where the program falls short, along with suggestions for appropriate and achievable improvements, will be the most useful for supporting high impact and encouraging development.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab a bite!