You don’t have to be a data scientist or evaluator to be able to build an evaluation plan; anyone can do it. Once you have your theory of change and logic model and you have decided what to measure, the hardest part is done and you just have to build the plan to collect, analyze, and communicate your results. We encourage you to right size your evaluation planning to the needs of your organization. An evaluation plan is a written document that describes how you will monitor and evaluate your organization/program, as well as how you intend to use evaluation results for program improvement and decision-making. To construct an evaluation plan:

  • Determine Why?  Decide on the purpose of the evaluation with key questions, such as:
    • Who is your audience (e.g. funders, donors, board, staff)?
    • What are your budget and resources to implement?
    • How will results be utilized (e.g. annual report, performance evaluation)?
  • Based on your answers, determine your needs and collect the best performance indicators to meet these needs.
  • Develop What? Clarify organization/program goals and objectives around the following areas: (A  Planning & Implementation – How well did we plan? For example, think of questions such as who participated and where did they come from?
    • Attainment of Objectives – How well did we meet objectives? For example, think of questions such ashow many people participated and what was the dosage/intensity (e.g. number of classes)?
    • Participant Impact – How much and what kind of change occurred? For example, think of questions such as what has changed and are participants satisfied?
    • Community Impact – How much and what kind of difference has been made? For example, think of questions such as what community goal did we contribute to and what was the return-on-investment?
  • Once you clarify your goals and objectives, determine the best approach for collecting the results, including demographic databases, participant surveys, participant focus group/interviews, community impact surveys, and cost/benefit analysis.
  • Plan How and When? Capture the plan using a matrix with the following categories:
    • Evaluation Question – what result is being measured
    • Indicator/Performance Measure – what actual question is being asked
    • Method – how the indicator is being tracked
    • Frequency – how often the indicator will be tracked
    • Responsibility – who is responsible for tracking it
    • Reporting – which stakeholders need the results
  • Once you have collected the data based on your evaluation plan, you should analyze the results regularly and conduct quarterly reviews to monitor and adjust as needed. Once the results are finished, you can also report them to the appropriate stakeholders.

The most important step of evaluation planning comes at the end – once the data is collected, how do you turn the data into something meaningful? The focus on Big Data by the media and even the coining of the phrase miss the whole point. Data is just an input. The real gem is the insight gleaned from the data, which ultimately leads to program modifications and improvements. Through measuring what matters and right sizing it for your organization, you will cut through the escalating noise generated by volumes of data and be able to focus on which insights will produce positive results for your clients and your organization.

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