CP TIG Week: Rachel Leventon on Using theory of change in evaluating community coalitions and collaboratives

My name is Rachel Leventon, and I am a consultant at CNM Connect, a nonprofit capacity building organization. Most of my work focuses on training, coaching, and consulting to increase the internal program evaluation capacities of nonprofit organizations and collaboratives. I am a sociologist at heart so theory informs everything I do. As a result, theory of change is a common theme in my evaluation consulting practice.

I spend most of my time talking about measuring success with client-focused outcomes, and In every class I teach there is at least one student who doesn’t fit the mold. Often this is a representative from a collaborative or coalition asking: “Who are the clients served by my housing collaborative or my literacy coalition when our activities don’t directly touch clients? Our members don’t even provide the same services to the same kinds of clients!” These coalitions and collaboratives cannot always measure their success using traditional outcomes-based program evaluation methodology, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be evaluated.

Hot Tip: Use theory of change to identify how a collaborative or coalition functions and to define goals for evaluating its effectiveness. Recognize that the actual “clients” are the participating member organizations.

Hot Tip: Using theory of change in this way can also help participating organizations better understand how they can maximize their available resources and strengthen their role as collaborative members.

A theory of change for a collaborative might look something like this:

Rachel's TOC

Lessons Learned: Illustrated this way, it is clear that the measurements of the collaborative could focus on whether networking and information-sharing activities help participating organizations better serve their own clients.

  • Is information-sharing and networking happening as planned within the context of the collaborative?
  • Are participating organizations building awareness, knowledge, and connections that they could use to improve their services?
  • Are participating organizations using new awareness, knowledge, and connections in a way that could improve their services?
  • Is participating organizations’ usage of new awareness, knowledge, and connections resulting in improvement in the services?

Hot Tip: Remember that the usefulness, usage, and benefit of information-sharing and networking taking place in the collaborative may take on different forms for each participating organization.

Rad Resource: TheoryofChange.org (www.theoryofchange.org) provides great resources on understanding and creating theories of change, and it also links to an awesome FREE resource – Theory of Change Online (TOCO) – http://toco.actknowledge.org/ diagramming tool to create your own theory of change diagrams without having to invest in pricey software.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating CP TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community Psychology Topical Interest Group. The contributions all week come from CP TIG 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.

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