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Shoestring evaluations – 5 tips to tie them up

By Ruby Fischer

Evaluations are like diets – you know they’re good for you, you always start off with good intentions and desperate optimism, but eventually you slip back into your old habits. So how do you stick to them? Here are 5 tips from AES NSW’s latest seminar on how NGOs can stick with evaluation in our do-more-with-less world.

1. Evaluation is a lifestyle, not a quick fix

Evaluation shouldn’t be an after thought and you shouldn’t do it just because everyone else is doing it. Evaluation needs to be embedded in your culture. That means everyone needs to be 100% committed.

And that means as the evaluation champion, you need to tell the right story. Effective storytelling embeds the evaluation change in your organisations DNA. The word evaluation is often met with the ‘I just ate a sour lemon' look. Positioning your evaluation as about continuous improvement, less judgement on the team, can help ensure they take the little steps for long lasting change, like encouraging feedback during service delivery.

It definitely means answering the question, ‘why does this matter?’

2. Find your purpose and motivation

So why does the evaluation matter? Is the evaluation for accountability? Is it for learning and development? Is it answering the questions - how much did we do, how well did we do it, what differences did we make?
Take some time to really get your head around your purpose. This makes it easier to keep your motivation high and helps you to design your evaluation by focusing you on what you need to know.

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3. Be realistic

You are probably not going to become a spinach smoothie drinking, marathon running, yogi master overnight. Similarly, you are not going to solve Australia’s most wicked social issues, no matter how awesome your program may be. You need to have realistic evaluation expectations given your limited time and budget, and you need to manage funders expectations as well.

Ask yourself, what can we reasonably expect to achieve? What outcomes reflect those reasonable expectations, and how do we measure them? Your evaluation needs to be fit for purpose, for community and for resources. Remember, it is better measure a few things well, rather than many poorly.

4. Phone a friend

Friends are super helpful. Use them. Leverage your network. Do you know experts? What online resources can you use? Hepatitis NSW, who presented a fantastic case study at the NSW AES seminar, checked in with an academic about their survey structure improved readability and questions. Their response rate doubled from 10% to 20%.

Remember partnerships are a two-way street. You’ve got a lot of value to offer too. Don’t forget it!

5. Incentivise

A little incentive goes a long way. It’s no surprise that incentives increase response rates. Used tactically, they’re also really cost effective.

It’s always important to say thank you for the time your client took to provide feedback. The incentive could be a chance to win a voucher or a little present. Know your target group, and you will know an appropriate incentive.

What lessons have you learnt on your evaluation journey? Let us know.

Ruby is a consultant at Nexus Management Consulting.

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