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NPF TIG Week: Building a Case for Integration of MEL, Strategy, and Accountability by Barbara Klugman

Hello, I am Barbara Klugman, strategy and evaluation practitioner working with social justice oriented funders, international networks and non-profits globally. I find that usually when I first work with groups who rely on donor funding, they think about and ‘do’ monitoring and evaluation in order to meet their funders’ reporting requirements.

One of my main goals is to shift their thinking towards recognising that, for most of them, their daily practice of activism for social justice involves evaluative thinking. I reinforce their own experience, that a good strategist is continually reviewing if and how well their actions have influenced the changes they hoped to achieve. They’re asking questions such as ‘What happened?’ ‘Why?’ ‘What does this mean in relation to our objectives or hopes?’ and ‘Do we need to shift strategies at all, or keep on with what we’re doing?’ I argue that this is evaluative thinking, and therefore strategy and evaluation are part of one process, and mutually dependent.

I also invite groups to unpack the meaning of accountability. In doing so, invariably they will identify that they are primarily accountable to the constituency they work with, and their interests, and to their elected representatives, when the constituency elects officials, or to their board. They recognise that to be accountable they need to be continually learning from what they’ve been doing and the influence they have or haven’t had, in order to strengthen the effectiveness of their interventions. Hence gathering of information to support their learning is key to their accountability.

And finally, if they can institutionalise that process of continually gathering information, using it to reflect on what has happened and why and based on that learning, to strengthen their strategies, they will also be well positioned to demonstrate to their funders that they know what they have done, and if and to what extent they’re making progress towards achieving their social justice objectives. They will have data, they will have stories of change, and they will be able to describe their learning and changes they have made or decisions on why they should stay on their course.

In my experience, many funders, irrespective of their reporting requirements, are so excited to receive solid data and reflection, that they don’t mind if groups present their reports in formats other than those prescribed – as long as they’re not too long!

Rad Resources

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPF TIG) Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our NPF 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. 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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