We are Jennifer (Jenny) Cohen and Shira Ben-Sasson Furstenberg of the New Israel Fund.
Like many strategic foundations, NIF continues to invest sustained efforts to create and more systematically use M&E tools for managing well and increasing impact. These are starting to generate observable, positive and meaningful outcomes, which could never have been realized had we not uncovered ways to overcome some hardcore – but not entirely unexpected – staff resistance.
Not for nothing, of course. There are legitimate reasons for staff ambivalence about roles and responsibilities for internalizing M&E practice into daily program operations. All such efforts require scarce material resources (money, models, technology), ambitious projects often fall short of their goals, and Israel has faced dramatic external realities over these years (multiple elections and COVID-19, to name just two) that justify further caution. So it’s not entirely unreasonable for non-M&E professionals to worry that “the game is not worth the candle.”
Management can’t force the kind of participatory energy that comes from true staff buy-in. If they doubt that the M&E game is worth the candle required, no one will choose to play. Unless legitimate questions are answered and exaggerated fears are allayed, real progress won’t happen and stakeholders won’t ever see the very real benefits of systematic evaluation practice.
This post explores our struggle to understand if and how NIF might benefit from a better understanding and greater employment of M&E. The process (see here for a wider case study) eventually resulted in a mutually-beneficial solution and a new model, which helps to replace old feelings of tired, sinking dread with cautious curiosity (dare we say enthusiasm), and the routine exercise of operationalizing M&E theory no longer seems insurmountable.
Hot Tips/Cool Tricks:
Briefly, the approach suggests a triage model, which helps to align M&E objectives across the organization, including calibrating the level and types of staff capacities required to face M&E challenges. Skilled facilitation – such as team orientation to the basics of social change evaluation, weekly “clinics” for staff development, and ad-hoc consultation – turns out to be the magic fairy dust that makes the entire process less intimidating and overwhelming, enabling staff fluency of the basic use of evaluation language and tools, as a daily management tool.
The familiar analogy we use here is three different treatments for a toothache. Maybe you need first-aid for a sore gum, or an aspirin if it really hurts or a fever persists. You don’t get a root canal until the dentist, using diverse professional diagnostics, says you need one.
Of course this isn’t the be-all and end-all…as M&E is a spiral process, where the learnings and recommendations inevitably bring us back to the beginning, sharpening our planning capacities and overall strategies. And on the way, hopefully, the relationships we build and nurture will support learning, that while at times exhausting can eventually lessen the sting (first-aid), alleviate the pressure (aspirin) and fix the core problem (root canal).
New resources have helped those of us struggling – especially this year – to effectively bridge between the needs and opportunities of program, evaluation, and philanthropy professionals:
- This piece, which describes an impact capacity-building framework.
- The Center for Evaluation Innovation’s second annual survey of foundation evaluation practices.
- And an oldy-but-goody from GEO: Evaluation in Philanthropy: Perspectives from the Field.
 “In the days of candlelight illumination, [‘the game is not worth the candle’] literally meant that the card game being played was not worth the cost of the candles used to light the proceedings.” The Dictionary of Clichés (2013). Retrieved January 11 2021 from https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/The+game+is+not+worth+the+candle.
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