People have a visible reaction to the word evaluation. When I walk into a room and say that I am an evaluator, people sit back in their chairs, they visibly stiffen, they hold their breath. I can read their minds – What am I doing wrong? Oh no, not this again. You are going to come in here and change EVERYTHING just as I was getting into a rhythm.

Not exactly a warm welcome. It’s OK, after many years of doing this work, I am used to it. But here’s the thing, nonprofit evaluation is at a turning point. That’s right, we are changing the way people think about and do evaluation.

Nonprofits with solid continuous improvement practices in place have greater impact (read more about this through The Performance Imperative). But why?, you might ask. Well, high-performing nonprofits have systems and procedures in place that promote continuous assessment so mistakes can be caught early and quickly modified. They have cultures that value failing forward – learning from setbacks, documenting why things didn’t go as planned, and celebrating innovation.

At ResultsLab, we have re-imagined evaluation with the Design-Measure-Act cycle. Here’s what that means:

Design: Getting clear on whom you serve, the outcomes they will achieve, and the services you provide to help them reach those outcomes seems like a simple step, but many nonprofits don’t have a solid Impact Strategy. How can you know where you’re going without a clear map? Can your staff see how their work contributes to the bigger picture of your organization? Working through the intentional design of your Impact Strategy can help you get there.

Measure: This can be the scary part. Measurement is how most people think about evaluation (and the cringing begins). But this, my friends, is the fun part. Coming up with your list of learning questions (let me emphasize learning not evaluation) brings out all the curiosities you have always had about your program. Are we serving the right people? Are people better off because of our program? Are we all delivering our program in the same way? Do these sound familiar? Together, we find ways to answer these questions (and it doesn’t have to be with a survey!). That’s what measurement is – answering those nagging questions in the back of your head, so you can feel confident about what you are doing to make our world a better place.

Act: We want more than just answers to our questions, right? We want to know now what? Here is where you act. We like to ask, so what? Data is just a pile of numbers until you do something with it. ACT is all about making data-driven decisions and creating actionable steps so that collecting all that data becomes worthwhile. Your programs get stronger, you become more efficient, you understand where and how to improve, and ultimately, you have greater impact – that’s the beauty of data utilization.

Design-Measure-Act IS evaluation. It’s a different way of thinking about data – we like to think it’s a people-centered-approach to evaluation and performance measurement.

Curious to know more? Give us a call. We love talking (and listening) about evaluation.