Building meaningful frameworks for measuring diverse projects contributing to common outcomes requires a clarity and simplicity that is truly challenging to achieve. This has been my focus this year for a few programs at the provincial scale.
Communities in rural and urban areas have distinct challenges, and there are different cultures in different regions. This influences the nature of issues being addressed, as well as the kinds of approaches needed to successfully build community and effect change. “Shared measurement” rolls off the tongue, but finding ways to structure it among diverse organizations in a wide range of communities takes a thoughtful approach.
I’ve found a few things that help:
1. Aligning common measures at the right level. Common measures can’t be so specific that there can be no comparison, nor so broad that there is no longer any meaning.
2. Focusing on a small number of common quantitative metrics that are feasible and meaningful for all parties to collect. These may look more like outputs than outcomes, but they can be rolled up better than the most perfect metrics that only 20% can reasonably collect.
3. Building in a process for organizations to gather data about their specificity. What are they experiencing in their community? What are the particular approaches they take, and in what context? This starts to give meaning to the metrics- allowing us to see how the overall outcomes are working, and why.
This is all easier said than done, but I am heartened but the responses from groups once they see their results presented as shared outcomes- it starts to feel powerful. Qualitative data and stories that illustrate local experiences in a particular context add depth of meaning. Taken as a whole, this can be a valuable way of demonstrating that our differences are what makes us effective in a variety of settings, and contributing to common outcomes makes us effective at scale.
I’ve been hearing a lot about failure lately: “I don’t want to admit that I have failed”, “Let’s re-frame these results so it doesn’t seem like we failed”. Most of these comments have come from what I consider to be successful people, running successful programs and businesses. Why is this conversation coming up about failure?
People are trying new things. We live in a complex world that requires innovation to adapt and improve our approaches. It’s courageous to try something new, especially when we’ve received funding and feel like we’re accountable for results. Innovation requires a certain kind of risk, because we are doing something we aren’t actually sure will work. If we already new what would work, and if our context never changed, we could confidently continue what we are already going.
Why is innovation so important?
We live in a changing world with new challenges, complexity, and ever-shifting influences. Innovation allows us to imagine new solutions. This requires a lot of leadership and willingness to learn.
Why is innovation so hard?
We may understand the need to change, simply because we know our approach needs to improve or because we can envision a better way. Knowing change is needed, however, isn’t the same as knowing what to do about it. Until we try something, we don’t know if it will work: we are operating in a constellation of needs, stakeholders, funding, relationships and other pressures that will impact the best-laid plans. We can’t know how something will work until we try it. Trying something new means exposing ourselves to a world of unknowns. Our challenge is to act with our best information, intentions and approach. Then we need to reflect, because there will be nuances to our experience that can teach us a great deal about how we might move forward effectively. Listening carefully is the key to our ability to learn and improve, bringing a clear understanding of what didn’t work forward, just as much as what did work.
I am much more worried about failure of imagination, failure to act, and failure to reflect, than I am about hearing “this completely failed, let’s learn from it.” The very reason that we tried something new was to see if it worked. If it didn’t, let’s not repeat it, and let’s understand why.
How do we as evaluators create a safe space to talk about failure? It’s a conversation that helps us evolve and grow as a profession. It’s key to supporting our clients to benefit from their experience; saying something failed shouldn’t be about admitting weakness, it should be about celebrating a new approach and building collective wisdom around how it worked, what didn’t work, and what lessons can be learned and shared.
What can we do to support talking about failure?
· Create a safe space for the conversation
· Make it clear from the beginning that learning is the goal
· Focus on the experiment, not the success or failure of the organization carrying it out
If we knew exactly how to do something, it wouldn’t be innovation. We can create the opportunity to build on our failures through innovation, action, and reflection.
“No offense, but I’m not actually going to read this” said a client last week about my Final Evaluation Report. I’ve been gathering data for two years and have spent countless hours putting it together. Actually, I don’t take offense. The final report format requires of me a certain amount of comprehensiveness
; by which you can also envision a swath of dust-catching pages full of detailed data, long explanations, and figures.
In fact, I consider the final report an essential document, because it is the full version that details the methodology, data sources, analysis and other important information. I know, however, that this is not the final product that my client wants to see. It’s just the repository for all of the relevant information, including appendices with all of the survey instruments, interview protocols, and detailed results.
What my client wants to see is a richer representation of the data. They want to see it in colour, in context. They want to know what it means. This is one of the most exciting and meaningful parts of my work. I have created a number of reports in association with the final report, which help to visualize the data available, and help explain the relationships between different aspects of the work. This “report” is no longer one thing; it is a variety of versions and formats which may have multiple goals: understanding the process of a particular strategy, articulating outcomes within a combination of strategies, illustrating the results of a particular method, and communicating with different kinds of audiences ranging from internal decision-makers to community partners. This is another step beyond data analysis, drawing on skills in communication and design, and it’s challenging but rewarding.
You can find out more about better evaluation reporting from the exceptional Kylie Hutchinson
, who is a great guide in making sense of data in every situation. There are also other helpful resources out there, such as Stephanie Evergreen
and Ann K. Emery
This is the new evaluation reporting. Someone is actually going to read the evaluation report. Our ability to create a meaningful, accessible report means that it will have a better chance of supporting important decisions to come and improving the work being done. Personally, I find that very exciting!
Last week the Canadian Evaluation Society BC & Yukon Chapter held a conference on the theme of Collaboration, Contribution and Collective Impact.
This sold-out event reminded me how much we want to collaborate in our own field. We work together with clients, partners and stakeholders all the time, incorporating new practices and innovating to build relationships and improve our outcomes.
Paul Kishchuk talked about wisdom outcomes being integral to making a difference as evaluators. We learned new skills like graphic facilitation from @jackiecamsden, designed to help us collaborate. I couldn’t attend the Evaluation Therapy session, but I heard from many people how much they enjoyed the chance to intervene in common situations and act out their own recommendations, quite literally. Incorporating a new element like theatre adds to our toolbox in unexpected ways.
Funders talked frankly about how hard it is to standardize metrics, because to respect context naturally leads to adaptation and differentiation, but to tell a bigger story, we need to define common measures.
What did I take away from the experience?
1. We learn and grow better together
2. Collaboration is complex and we benefit by being creative, observant and adaptable to make sense of it in evaluation
3. Collaboration is a confluence of individuals, mechanisms and systems, and we need to approach it with this understanding
Thanks to the many excellent presenters and to the attendees who provoked meaningful conversations. I look forward to next year!
How do you deal with the complexity of collaborating organizations that are on different timelines, with power differentials, and varying levels of data quality? Krishna Belbase of the Evaluation Office of UNICEF introduced the Resource Pack on Joint Evaluations developed by the UN Evaluation Group, at the CES 2015 conference in Montreal. He suggested that it is structured for UN agencies, but could be adapted to suit other organizations. The Resource Pack is a rich resource not only because of the simple yet comprehensive guide it provides for evaluation, but also because of the way it details the governance structures needed to support evaluation in organizations working together on evaluation.
In today’s world many evaluations are done with some element of collaboration, and the Guidance Document and Toolkit that make up the Resource Pack can be used to help define the key functions, structures, and questions to ask when determining how to govern evaluation.
The Guidance Document helps tease out the various functions like communication, management, technical input, and logistics. The Toolkit then walks you through the steps from deciding to work together on an evaluation, preparing for the evaluation, implementing the evaluation, to utilizing the outcomes. It addresses sticky issues like readiness and buy-in, and provides advice at every stage from developing terms of reference to disseminating findings.
Do you need a steering committee, management group, reference group, stakeholder group, or advisory group? The Toolkit lays out the considerations for making important decisions about the most appropriate governance structure for your situation. Overall, the Resource Pack on Joint Evaluations is a great resource for any organization looking to support decision-makers and leaders in structuring their governance, and provides tools such as checklists, examples and good practices to evaluation practitioners.
Check out this amazing resource: Resource Pack on Joint Evaluations
TedxMontrealWomen took place this weekend, and I had the good fortune of attending with two brilliant women. We listened and reflected throughout the day on the presentations organized around the theme of daring greatly. It was both a personal and professional challenge to get to know ourselves better and bring more of our best selves into the work we do.
For those of us who work with complex issues and challenges that often seem intractable, the inspiring words from women in science, technology, business, social development and art served as a moving reminder that we need to tap into our passion to be at our most powerful.
Skawennati is an artist and independent curator creating future images of thriving Aboriginal communities using digital media. She works with youth to express their culture and personal journeys through video games and created an Aboriginally-determined territory in cyberspace called CyberPoWow. Skawennati and the other speakers have found their purpose and are fully engaged with making the world a better place by giving expression to their powerful dynamism and unique talents.
We left the event recharged and ready to create stronger relationships and build an ever more mindful practice.