The Improve Group Week: Capacity building over time: seeing clients grow by Daren Nyquist

Hi, I’m Daren Nyquist, a Research and Evaluation Director at The Improve Group, an evaluation consulting firm in Minnesota. Today I’m going to tell you about building evaluation capacity with clients over time, something we have had the benefit of doing with some long-term clients. It’s exciting to see community-focused organizations taking the reins on evaluations themselves, and bolstering the important work they’re doing.

Here at The Improve Group, we have had the pleasure of developing relationships with certain clients, including some we’ve watched grow through our capacity-building partnerships. We value this type of work because of the importance we see in equipping communities and organizations to navigate complexity and have sustained impact. One client we have done extensive capacity building with is VocalEssence, a Minneapolis-based choral music organization. Because we have spent time partnering with VocalEssence to build the organization’s evaluation capacity, we’re enjoying a current project in which organization staff are creating a youth participatory data collection workshop themselves.

Lesson Learned: VocalEssence staff are evaluating WITNESS, a youth education and performance program centered on celebrating African-Americans’ contributions to arts and culture in America. In both classrooms and on stage, this program brings African-American musicians’ work to a broader audience, and is one of the nation’s most respected programs of its kind. We’re providing training and feedback to VocalEssence staff to tailor data collection methods to the youth participants. Because we have a history of building evaluation capacity through several VocalEssence programs over two years, we are now able to focus more on empowering the organization to use their accumulated evaluation knowledge and play a bigger role in the evaluation design and implementation. Because project budgets can be small, we work to give staff tools to evaluate programs themselves. Now, with this current evaluation, we were able to jump right into more nuanced methods.

Cool Trick: With our training, the staff is designing a participatory data collection workshop, in a highly collaborative process with us. Using their insight, staff are planning it at the same time and place of the existing choral rehearsal to eliminate barriers, and for kids to feel more comfortable (and less like they are being “studied”). Additionally, the data collection methods are designed to feel like games so that the youth are more likely to fully participate.

Because we have worked with VocalEssence before, in this project we served in more of a guidance role, reminding staff how to use methods and coaching them along – a rewarding feeling. Even more importantly, our long relationship with VocalEssence has embedded a culture of evaluation into the organization.

The American Evaluation Association is highlighting the work of The Improve Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from staff of The Improve Group. 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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