Evaluation: What's the Use?

April 23, 2014

Grantees developing evaluation questions using a facilitation technique called Brainwriting.

Written by Jonathan Jones

Michael Quinn Patton’s publication, Utilization-Focused Evaluation, catalyzed a discussion on evaluation use that has continued for over 30 years. The first step in operationalizing this discussion is to glean the priorities of the client and evaluands in the design process. Fully understanding and eliciting their priorities can be done in a creative, respectful, and fun way that is rewarding for all involved- and that’s exactly what we set out to do for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

EnCompass LLC was commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation to collect baseline data for a portfolio of seven grants focused on improving maternal health accountability in Nigeria. To establish the foundation for a useful evaluation, the EnCompass evaluation team spent 2 days in Abuja with 14 grantees and 2 Foundation staff. We facilitated a process for participants to construct a portfolio theory of change, develop evaluation questions, create sampling criteria, and advise on methodology. The meeting was a tremendous success.   

From the moment participants entered the conference hall, the room was full of color. Tables were scattered around the room covered with multi-colored, scented markers, pipe cleaners, and various colored index cards and sticky notes. Within the first few minutes participants realized that this was not going to be a typical meeting. 

EnCompass used brainwriting, appreciative visioning, and small group activities to ensure all voices were heard and all participants were engaged from start to finish. There was no “front of the room,” and EnCompass facilitated rather than led discussions; we spent most of our time “in the back,” listening. This fun, relaxing, comfortable, and equitable atmosphere empowered participants to take leadership of the evaluation design process.

As a result, the EnCompass team came away with all the critical information required to design a useful evaluation, and participants left excited and prepared for the evaluation. We knew we had done our job well, when, at the end of the meeting, one participant said:

"I used to feel frustrated with evaluation. The last time we went through an evaluation we felt that the evaluator really didn’t understand our program or our goals.  But I have loved providing input during this meeting! I see evaluation differently now!"

Learn more about the project, and our participatory evaluation process, here.   _

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