CP TIG Week: Wendi L. Siebold on Where The Rubber Meets The Road: Taking A Hard Look At Organizational Capacity And The Use Of Empowerment Evaluation

Hi! I’m Wendi Siebold, President of Strategic Prevention Solutions, a consulting firm that works to address and prevent social and health problems through research, evaluation and training. We spend a lot of time in communities working with non-profit organizations to improve staff and organizational evaluation capacity. Currently, we are the “empowerment evaluator” for domestic violence and/or sexual assault organizations in Alaska, Idaho and Florida.

Empowerment evaluators act as coaches, or critical friends, for the people who actually implement evaluation activities. There are a number of tensions in the balancing act of coaching someone’s capacity building. What I’m highlighting today is the tension between organizational capacity for evaluation and realistic expectations of “empowerment.”

Empowerment evaluators have the intention of improving a person or organization’s capacity to a notch above where they start. However, it’s essential for the evaluator and client to be on the same page about the ability of an organization to devote resources to evaluation and to define their desired level of capacity. For example, how much time does staff have to enter survey data? Who can review the data and find the story to report? Does a scale score need to be calculated?Usually people want to evaluate: it’s simply they don’t have the resources. This is why it’s vital to start capacity building only after knowing where you will end. Let’s practice what we preach and determine capacity building goals. Even if you build skills, will this get your client to a finished product? Isn’t the merit of program evaluation to improve the program and reach outcomes? If you never get to the stage of finding the “story” in the data or having findings to use, was the evaluation meaningful?

Hot Tip: Figure out organizational and staff capacity for evaluation immediately, before jumping into building capacity. A fatal flaw of empowerment evaluation is that the true time and resources needed to move from writing outcomes to summarizing findings is greater than most nonprofit staff and even evaluators realize. This requires diligence on the part of the evaluator – you’re the person who understands the reality of how many resources each step of an evaluation process will take. It is only after you have this discussion about feasibility that you can effectively coach your clients to completing evaluation work, and not leave them stranded in a pile of unanalyzed data. That just gives evaluation the bad name people have come to expect, and we’re better than that!Seibold

Rad Resources:

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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