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Here at The Improve Group, we have had the pleasure of developing relationships with certain clients, including some we’ve watched grow through our capacity-building partnerships. We value this type of work because of the importance we see in equipping communities and organizations to navigate complexity and have sustained impact. One client we have done extensive capacity building with is VocalEssence, a Minneapolis-based choral music organization. Because we have spent time partnering with VocalEssence to build the organization’s evaluation capacity, we’re enjoying a current project in which organization staff are creating a youth participatory data collection workshop themselves.

They are evaluating WITNESS, a youth education and performance program centered on celebrating African-Americans’ contributions to arts and culture in America. In both classrooms and on stage, this program brings African-American musicians’ work to a broader audience, and is one of the nation’s most respected programs of its kind. We’re providing training and feedback to VocalEssence staff to tailor data collection methods to the youth participants. Because we have a history of building evaluation capacity through several VocalEssence programs, we are now able to focus more on empowering the organization to use their accumulated evaluation knowledge and play a bigger role in the evaluation design and implementation.

With our training, the staff is designing a participatory data collection workshop, in a highly collaborative process with us. Using their insight, staff are planning it at the same time and place of the existing choral rehearsal to eliminate barriers, and for kids to feel more comfortable (and less like they are being “studied”). Additionally, the data collection methods are designed to feel like games so that the youth are more likely to fully participate.

Because we have worked with VocalEssence before, in this project we served in more of a guidance role, reminding staff how to use methods and coaching them along – a rewarding feeling. Even more importantly, our long relationship with VocalEssence has embedded a culture of evaluation into the organization.

It’s exciting to see community-focused organizations like VocalEssence taking the reins on evaluations themselves, and bolstering the important work they’re doing. In recent years, we have seen this capacity building process continue to grow in popularity and use with our clients. If you are interested in developing your organization’s capacity to conduct evaluation, we are happy to talk with you about how our process works. Feel free to contact us at!