Don't Skimp on Evaluation, Even When Budgets Shrink
This post is a response to “How Might We Emphasize Cost Effective Evaluation Tools?” Read more of the conversation here.
We face a time when efficiency, cost cutting, and preparation for the tough times ahead dominate our conversations. Many funding organizations are looking at reduced income due to diminishing returns on their investments, which can mean fewer grants and a much closer eye on what is invested in to begin with.
For some of the organizations I have worked with the reaction to this is to increase fund-raising activity, to apply for more grants, and to ask for less money (to ensure they get any at all). This can result in compromising some of the most important parts of the work to be carried out, and that too often includes the budget allocated to learning and evaluation.
Cutting back on learning and evaluation can help with the survival of a project in the short-term—survive the worst, think about the future later. But while this may be a strategy to get through the tough times, there are problems with this approach.
If an investment is not made in learning and reflection, in the long term it will be difficult to prove its worth. In addition, the project could suffer from not effectively responding to changes in the project’s environment or to developments and challenges as the project progresses.
Some of the most inspirational organizations I have worked with use another approach: they use the urgency of time like these to review resources by their effectiveness to achieve the goal. In practice, this means they question themselves constantly: are we taking the best approach? Are our resources allocated in the best way? What will the resource commitment now mean in the long term? They seek out knowledge and work hard to maximize their resources for the greatest impact of their work.
Cost-effective evaluation tools then become part of the wider picture—will these tools give the quality information needed to make the project work best; and will they give the information required to maximize its impact in the long term? If a tool does not provide critical information vital to the project’s success it will be difficult to categorize it as cost-effective. Superfluous information is a luxury few organizations can indulge in, even in the best of times.
I believe funders need to encourage this approach by ensuring that their investment does not compromise on funds for learning and evaluation, and is flexible enough to allow for the best tools (for the project) to be used, not just traditional or fashionable tools.
Rose Casey-Challies is the Director of Partners in Impact, designing funding programs and working with socially driven organizations to identify their social impact, and share practice that helps to create change. Twitter: @RoseCaseyC