NPF TIG Week: Gretchen Shanks on What Do We Mean by “Evaluation Resources”?

Hi, I’m Gretchen Shanks with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Strategy, Measurement and Evaluation (SM&E) team. Our team works to ensure the foundation’s leadership, program teams and partners have the necessary capacity, tools and support to measure progress, to make decisions and to learn what works best to achieve our goals.

Before the Foundation, I supported teams at non-profits that were eager to evaluate their projects in the field; however, financial resources were inevitably scarce. Now that I work for a grant-maker that prioritizes the generation of evidence and of lessons about what works, what doesn’t and why, I think about issues of resourcing measurement and evaluation a bit differently.

In particular, I think less about whether we have enough financial resources in our budget for M&E and more about whether we have “enough” technical resources for measurement available (both to our internal teams and to our partners), or “enough” appropriately targeted and utilized evaluations. Some of the questions I ask about grantee evaluation include:

  • Are we investing sufficient resources, both time and technical support, in our work with partners to articulate the logical framework of measureable results for a project?
  • Have we adequately planned for measurement of those results and any possible evaluation(s)?
  • Do we know if we really need an evaluation, and if so, towards what end?
  • Does the design of the evaluation appropriately match the purpose and audience?
  • Do we know how (and by whom) the evaluation results will be used?

Planning results and measurement up front, supporting M&E implementation, and facilitating the use of data and lessons learned from evaluation all require resourcing – some financial, some technical, and (perhaps most importantly) temporal—the time needed from the relevant stakeholders (internal and external) is critical. As you likely know well from your own work, there are no magic solutions to these challenges. Here at the foundation we’re working on getting smarter about how to utilize scarce resources to support actionable measurement and evaluation.

Hot Tips: Here are a few examples of ways we’re tackling these challenges:

  • Check out this blog post by SM&E’s Director, Jodi Nelson. She introduces the foundation’s evaluation policy, which aims to “help staff and partners align on expectations and focus scarce evaluation resources where they are most likely to produce actionable evidence.”
  • Read this PowerPoint deck, which describes the foundation’s approach to designing grants with a focus on measureable results.
  • Listen to an Inside the Gates podcast to hear from NPR’s Kinsey Wilson and Dan Green, BMGF’s deputy director of strategic partnerships, as they discuss measurement in the field of media communications and some of the related challenges. (The segment runs from 8:55 to 15:38.)

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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