3rd Annual Evaluation Workshop

Evaluation Lab News

Posted: May 01, 2018 - 12:00am

The Evaluation Lab’s 3rd annual Evaluation Workshop inspired community organizations to use evaluation as a tool for achieving their missions. The Workshop, held on April 27, brought students and faculty from the Evaluation Lab together with partner organizations and community members to share the many ways to assess organizational effectiveness.

The Lab partnered with seven community nonprofits during the 2017-2018 academic year:

* Breath of My Heart Birthplace, a community midwifery practice in Española;

* Centro Sávila, a community behavioral health practice in Albuquerque’s South Valley and International District;

* Enlace Comunitario, whose mission is to eliminate domestic violence in the Hispanic/Latino community in the Albuquerque metro area;

* Las Cumbres Community Services, a nonprofit that supports vulnerable families in northern New Mexico;

* New Day Youth and Family Services, which operates a safe home and other services for at-risk youth in Albuquerque;

* New Mexico Primary Care Association, which supports Federally Qualified Health Clinics to provide high quality health care in underserved communities throughout New Mexico; and

* PB&J Family Services, which works with vulnerable families to prevent child maltreatment.

Evaluation Lab students presented posters that summarized the results of collaborations with these organizations over the academic year. Projects included survey development, focus group feedback, data analysis and data visualizations that addressed and assessed organizational processes and outcomes.

Henry Rael, Program Director at the McCune Foundation, gave a keynote address about the challenges nonprofit organizations face in securing funding, and to the difficulty that funders face in determining who to fund and in what way. Mr. Rael pointed out that funders typically want to fund program expenses, but not overhead, even though programs can’t operate without paying the rent and keeping the lights on. Another challenge is that although nonprofits address interrelated issues, funding mechanisms don’t support collaboration.

McCune is addressing these issues in two ways. First, all grants are now provided as unrestricted, general operating grants. That is, the money granted to the organization can be used to pay for office supplies, rent, and other logistical necessities. Second, McCune is partnering with two other foundations to support “Zone Grants” for groups of organizations to plan and tackle complex social issues. Zone grants will provide support for three years, and grantees will be supported in developing competitive grant proposals for national foundations. By offering this opportunity and incentive to work together, Zone Grants will encourage a closer relationship among the members of “the ecosystem of organizations” in the state.

Following the keynote address were two hands-on training sessions. The first was led by the Evaluation Lab Director and Associate Directs, Drs. Melissa Binder and Sonia Bettez. Entitled “Measuring What Matters”, the training focused on evaluation as a core practice, that is how to embed evaluation into routine operations, and how to use evaluation as a way to further achieve the mission of each organization. Inspired by David Grants’ Social Profit Handbook, Melissa and Sonia shared their experiences in evaluating the Evaluation Lab. Setting aside time for evaluation is a key step, and Melissa

also recommended referring to it as “mission time” instead of evaluation, because “we care a lot about our missions, and linking evaluation to the mission directly keeps it a more active process”.

Melissa and Sonia then facilitated a hands-on exercise where attendees worked with each other in groups to create a rubric regarding an important goal in their organization. Groups created rubrics with four levels, where level one represented a poor or failed outcome, all the way to level 4 being an outstanding or exemplary outcome. Participants were animated and engaged, discussing the various ways to categorize and measure the outcomes they sought. One striking insight from a participant was that,“We often only define success, and anything short of that is failure.” But there are many steps along the way to a desired outcome.

Charla Henley led the second training session, on conducting an interactive focus group to answer questions about how participants experience programs, and whether and how programs spark changes in attitudes, knowledge, skills and behavior. Currently a Team Lead for the Lab, Charla was a student with the Lab two years ago, and a Senior Fellow last year. Charla led the room through a shortened version of an interactive focus group both to demonstrate how to facilitate one, and also to provide a practical example of why interactive focus groups are effective in garnering qualitative data.

Activities included “Gingerbread Person,” where participants added features to an outline of a gingerbread man to illustrate how evaluation made them feel before and after the workshop, “Speed Dating,” where participants asked each other questions about the Workshop, and a collaborative brainstorming session. The activities demonstrated the advantages of interactive focus groups: first, they encourage input from people who are comfortable speaking but not writing, and vice versa; second, everyone contributes, so that you get a full range of ideas; and third, getting people moving and working with different people is fun for both the participants and the facilitator.

The Gingerbread Person drawings in particular helped us assess the impact of the Workshop. Common ideas that emerged from this activity were that the workshop was eye-opening and skill- building. The themes that emerged showed that participants felt confused, anxious, unengaged, uncertain, and passive about evaluation before the workshop. After the workshop, participants felt clear/focused, relaxed, prepared/ready, competent/trained, and engaged about/with evaluation. Drawings showed eyes open after the workshop, skills learned, ideas for new implementation and calmer facial expressions and hair.