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Trina Willard on Building Evaluation Capacity Within Nonprofit Organizations

My name is Trina Willard and I currently exercise my evaluation and measurement skills as the Vice President of Transformation Systems, Inc., a management consulting firm. During my 15 years in the evaluation field, I have had wonderful opportunities to engage across all levels of service organizations, including work with executives, leadership teams and service delivery staff.

I have personally gained insight about successful evaluation strategies by working “in the trenches”, and a great appreciation for the challenges that service providers face daily in juggling multiple priorities. As a frequent consultant to nonprofit and government groups, I consistently find that these organizations are most successful when armed with a foundational understanding of evaluation. However, competing demands, particularly in relatively small organizations, can preclude attention to professional development on the evaluation front. In fact, sometimes evaluation is tackled as an afterthought detrimentally, and only considered after all other priorities are addressed. Consequently, I believe that building evaluation capacity in the nonprofit sector often “sticks” when it is presented as a process of incremental steps, created systematically over time. In addition, such organizations are often most receptive to a practical, applied approach to evaluation, as opposed to a predominantly academic perspective. I’d like to recommend a rad resource that nicely taps into both of these needs.

Rad Resource: Hallie Preskill & Darlene Russ-Eft (2005). Building Evaluation Capacity: 72 Activities for Teaching and Training. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. http://www.amazon.com/Building-Evaluation-Capacity-Activities-Teaching/dp/0761928103

Preskill & Russ-Eft do a great job of translating evaluation models, approaches, and techniques into relatable, hands-on exercises. The book is actually light on narrative “explanation”, but rather creates understanding through the direct implementation of tools and templates. As a trainer, I’ve used this resource repeatedly to illustrate evaluation principles for decision-makers and staff. One of my favorites: Activity 3, Evaluating Chocolate Chip Cookies Using Evaluation Logic. This exercise is always a hit at training events – a true example of learning in an enjoyable way! In addition, the text covers a wide variety of evaluation-relevant content, spanning topics such as ethics, political context, logic models, data collection, qualitative and quantitative analysis, budgeting for evaluation, and organizational buy-in. The layout easily facilitates training on one focused topic, or alternatively creation of a comprehensive training program.

I encourage you to give this resource a look. I’ll be interested to hear what you think!

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

5 thoughts on “Trina Willard on Building Evaluation Capacity Within Nonprofit Organizations”

  1. Pingback: Everything Old Is New Again: Building Evaluation Capacity Within Nonprofit Organizations - Knowledge Advisory Group

  2. Pingback: Everyone Old Is New Again: Building Evaluation Capacity Within Nonprofit Organizations | Knowledge Advisory Group

  3. Darlene Russ-Eft

    Yes, I want to echo Hallie’s thank you. The cookie exercise certainly tends to win the hearts of students (in masters and doctoral program) and of folks in the “real world.” I have used these strategies and tools with groups in business and industry, in government agencies and non-profits, and in academic settings. And, I would be most interested in having additional ideas shared so that we can all learn.

  4. Thanks so much, Trina for your wonderful endorsement of our book! As teachers and facilitators of evaluation courses and workshops, we are always looking for experiential learning activities to help make evaluation concepts and practices more accessible, concrete, and meaningful. It’s funny how many people we’ve heard from about the chocolate chip cookie activity – it seems to be useful with so many different groups of learners and stakeholders. I have tried the exercise with cereal and chocoloate, but without a doubt, cookies seem to be the most effective teaching aids. I would love to see others post effective teaching/learning strategies, so thanks again, for initiating this conversation.–Hallie

  5. The book you recommend is indeed a great resource – Building Evaluation Capacity: 72 Activities for Teaching and Training. I use it every time I teach a graduate course in Program Evaluation Methods. The chocolate chip cookie exercise is always a big hit, and I use many other activities from the book as well. They help students generate insightful questions and rich discussion in the classroom.

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