NPF TIG Week: Laura Beals on the Importance of High Quality Data

Hello Evaluation Colleagues! I am Laura Beals, Director of Evaluation at Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS) in Boston. Kathryn Hill and I are the business co-chairs of the Nonprofit and Foundations Nonprofit TIG (NPFTIG). We are excited to be kicking off the NPFTIG week on AEA365—our theme this year matches that of the conference: Exemplary Evaluations in a Multicultural World! This week we will be featuring four posts from evaluators who submitted their projects to our TIG for AEA’s “Evaluation Exemplars” project.

What does excellence in nonprofit evaluation mean to me? Pragmatically, it means conducting evaluations with integrity. While the concept of integrity has many facets professionally, I believe it includes ensuring that you are using high-quality data. My belief in the importance of high-quality data as a requirement for evaluation excellence was influenced by a piece on Markets for Good by Laura Quinn entitled “Forcing Nonprofits to Lie about Data.”

Lesson Learned: The Importance of High Quality Data

What does high-quality data look like in nonprofit settings? At JF&CS, we have translated the academic concepts of reliability and validity into the following criteria for high-quality data:

  • Complete: the data is complete.
  • Uniform: data is being entered consistently across those who are doing the data entry.
  • Accurate: the data reflects what is true about the client or service being provided.
  • Timely: the data is being entered in a manner such that it can be used with little delay

At JF&CS, we have three main mechanisms for achieving high-quality data:

(1) Automated monthly reports: We have an electronic, cloud-based case management system that we use to support evaluation. We create tools—primarily in the form of automated monthly reports—that let program staff and leadership know the quality of their data, and most importantly, how to fix errors.

(2) Learning conversations: We create reports and facilitate meetings in which program staff have an opportunity to reflect on their data and make program improvements.

(3) Regular division-level program review meetings: We create reports at the aggregate level for each division so that directors can get a macro view of the status of the evaluations process in the programs for which they are responsible.

Of course, achieving high-quality data requires resources, which was the theme of last year’s NPFTIG week on AEA365 (and an ongoing challenge for those working in nonprofit and foundation settings).

We’d love to hear from you—what do you think evaluation excellence looks like in nonprofit and foundation settings? What resources are needed to conduct excellent evaluations? Comment below or on any of this week’s posts and/or join us at our business meeting at Eval 15—we will be facilitating a panel discussion on this topic!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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