Over the past few months, we have been following the discussions about public budgets as closely as anyone who works with programs that receive public funding. The stress that decision makers are under has been palpable. We have been saddened when programs that have demonstrated strong results have faced cuts, and also saddened to see people who we’ve come to know and care about face significant changes and losses. We’ve spent some time thinking about the role of evaluation when a program or organization is facing a loss of funding. Using evaluation guidelines, conversations with colleagues, and our own values as an organization, we developed some ways that evaluation can help… and some ways it cannot:

Advocacy. We’ve been asked several times to help prepare materials to help advocate for specific programs or issues. After discussion, we came up with some ways to help us maintain our objectivity as evaluators but still support our clients. Our focus is on analyzing data and helping organizations to use it. For example, we can help empower our clients to use their data to talk with decision makers about programs, but not lobby on their behalf.

Making decisions. When faced with a change that is out of your control, identifying a focus for making decisions can be difficult. Evaluators can help you identify criteria and assign values to different activities and goals. Although the decisions may still be emotionally wrenching or require a lot of thought about how changes will be implemented in line with your organization’s values, hopefully the data can help point towards a course of action.

Moving forward. Another way evaluators can help is in clarifying goals and what success would look like. Perhaps with a change in programming your definition of success will change. Evaluators can help you refine who you serve, how and to what purpose. Although logic models have recently received some funny ridicule, they are a useful tool for describing what you do or what you want to achieve as an organization.

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