Developing More Intentional Budgets By Redefining LoE by Nina Sabarre and Kathleen Doll

Photograph of Nina Sabarre and Kathleen Doll sitting in a chair between a white hydrangea and a bookcase.
Nina Sabarre & Kathleen Doll

Hello! We are Nina Sabarre, PhD and Kathleen Doll, PhD, and we lead Intention 2 Impact (I2I), a research and evaluation consulting firm known for helping purpose-driven organizations drive strategy, innovation, and impact.

In addition to serving our clients day in and day out, we are proud to be a feminist firm that actively disrupts business as usual by prioritizing authenticity, transparency, abundance, and equity.

What does that mean in practice? For one, we interrogate standard business practices and ways of working to align them with our personal values – without sacrificing financial value. We know that it can be taboo to talk about money in a profession driven by social betterment and grounded in academia. However, we recognize evaluation is a commercial industry in the knowledge economy, and by not transparently discussing finances, we not only devalue ourselves, our work, and the field, but we conform to capitalist norms that exist to keep businesses like us small.

Hot Tip: Redefining LoE

One way we’ve been rethinking stale business practices is by redefining “Level of Effort” (LoE) that we use to calculate budgets. Typically, LoE represents the number of working days or billable hours spent on project tasks. Multiplying LoE by hourly rates is how most consultants develop budgets for projects. 

We believe that measuring “effort” strictly via hours or working days perpetuates a work culture that prioritizes time, urgency, and efficiency over value, humanity, and impact. We see time as a unit of measurement, not an indicator of progress, and we recognize that every hour should not be counted equally. 

As such, we’ve developed an internal LoE formula that accounts for varied levels of energy and attention required for different tasks and project contexts. The current formula includes variables such as uncertainty, complexity, and alignment. The extent to which project contexts are uncertain and complex moderates the time and space required to complete different tasks. We also recognize projects vary in the extent to which they advance our ultimate mission of helping organizations use evaluation to advance social justice and equity through systems change. Higher scores of uncertainty and complexity add to our LoE calculation, and higher scores of alignment subtract from it. This allows us to come up with a more accurate estimate of how much “real effort” a project will require. Uncertain and complex projects can deplete energy, while projects in alignment with our core values and mission give us energy. We multiply our consulting rates by our revised LoE calculation to come up with budgets that make us feel confident and excited to take on resource and energy intensive projects.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when determining LoE required for your projects:
  1. Do you have all the information and resources you need to complete this project in a timely manner and produce the expected deliverables?
  2. Do you have the expertise and capacity needed to do this project justice without added stress and burden?
  3. Is the project context straightforward, or will you need to navigate complicated dynamics? Given it’s almost always the latter… are the complexities invigorating and interesting, or messy and draining? 
  4. Is this work aligned with your organization’s mission and values? Does it make you proud to work on this project, or are you doing it to get by (which is perfectly reasonable and something all consultants have to do sometimes)?

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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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