CEA Week: Holly Lewandowski on Encouraging Clients to Think Evaluatively to Strengthen their Programs

My name is Holly Lewandowski. I am the owner of Evaluation for Change, Inc. a consulting firm that specializes in program evaluation, grant writing, and research for nonprofits, state agencies, and universities. I worked as an internal evaluator for nonprofits for ten years prior to starting my business four years ago.

There have been some major changes in the nonprofit world as a result of the economic downturn -within the last four years especially. I’ve witnessed nonprofits that were mainstays in the community shut their doors because the major funding source they relied on for years dried up. Funding has become scarcer and much more competitive. Funders are demanding grantees demonstrate strong outcomes in order to qualify for funding. As a result, many of my clients are placing a much greater emphasis on evaluating outcomes and impact and less on evaluating program implementation in order to compete. The problem is you can’t have one without the other. Strong programs produce strong outcomes.

Here are some tips and resources I use to encourage my clients to think evaluatively to strengthen their programs and thus produce quality outcomes.

Hot Tips:

  • Take time to think. As an outside evaluator, I am very aware of the stress program staff and leadership are under to keep their nonprofits running. I am also aware of the emphasis for nonprofits to produce in order to keep their boards and funders happy. What gets lost, though, is time to think creatively and reflect on what’s going well and what needs to be improved. Therefore, I build in time in my work plan to facilitate brainstorming and reflection sessions around program implementation. What we do in those sessions are in the following tips.
  • Learn by doing. During these sessions, program staff learns how to develop evaluation questions and how to develop logic models.
  • Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement through data sharing. Also at these sessions, process evaluation data is shared and discussed. The discussions are centered on using data to reinforce what staff already knows about programs, celebrate successes, and identify areas for improvement.

Rad Resources:

  • The AEA Public eLibrary has a wealth of presentations and Coffee Break Demonstrations on evaluative thinking and building capacity in nonprofits.
  • If you are new to facilitating adults in learning about evaluation, check out some websites on Adult Learning Theory. About.com is a good place to start.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Chicagoland (CEA) Evaluation Association Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the CEA AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our CEA 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “CEA Week: Holly Lewandowski on Encouraging Clients to Think Evaluatively to Strengthen their Programs”

  1. Well put, Holly. My colleague Jane Buckley and I have been working on how to better understand and promote evaluative thinking; your insights match well with how we’ve been thinking about this.

  2. I totally agree with your blog. It is challenging to create time for teams to think and reflect because the emphasis is on doing, but without the reflection and thinking many programs continuing doing and going in a less effective direction.

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