Organizations and institutions working toward social change often face the dual challenge of high expectations for success and very real constraints of staffing and funds to carry out their work. Adding monitoring and evaluation to the mix of investments can seem daunting. However, evaluation is an essential component of determining whether and how the desired changes are occurring.
This paper advocates for the creation of an overall evaluation plan—an “evaluation system”—for integrating and operationalizing evaluative thinking in organizations and programs working toward social change. Emphasizing Appreciative Inquiry and Outcome Mapping, it offers a framework and a step-by-step process to examine assumptions and clarify the theory of change.
For programs, integrating this framework helps clarify where to direct funds, efforts, and partnerships. For evaluators, it supports a holistic understanding of the organization and its programs that helps maximize the usefulness of the resulting evidence. In both cases, the result is a powerful tool for planning and evidenced-based learning.