When the leadership of an organization commits to developing its internal evaluation capacity, it must first consider the purpose of evaluation. There are three primary purposes for which evaluation is conducted in nonprofits.
These three purposes are distinct from each other but are not mutually exclusive. Evaluation can and should be performed for multiple purposes to enhance the potential benefits to the organization. By taking control of the evaluation process, the organization can better articulate its successes and manage its challenges. By-products of evaluation can be more confident decision making, better internal and external communication, and enhanced credibility as an organization.
It is important when planning for evaluation, to have a clear idea of the purpose(s) for which the organization will be involved in evaluation. With that in mind, a shared vision for evaluation can be developed. Creating a shared vision for evaluation entails imagining the potential or the desired future for the role of evaluation. It is about creating what you as members of the organization want, staying positive, and not allowing past negative experiences to determine evaluation's role. It is an opportunity to think creatively about how evaluation can be integrated within an organization to enhance organizational learning such as by adding it to job descriptions, and including the evaluation of processes and relationships in addition to programs and projects.
The visioning process itself has important value. It is while working through this process that a group develops a sense of commitment. Personal visions join with others to become incorporated into an organizational vision. That is why it is important for as many members of an organization to be part of this process as possible. They can feel a sense of ownership and control when they see the evaluation process as being an opportunity for learning and not for judgment. An evaluation vision that is handed down by top management will not have the same outcome as one which involves wider representation. As Todd Outcalt stated, “We become what we imagine. . . The clearer our vision of what could be, the greater the possibility that it will be. "
Karen Russon is president of Evaluation Capacity Development Group, ECDG