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Foundation Operations: Evaluation: Managing External Evaluators-> Oversight

How do I manage and provide oversight to an evaluation?

Managing and providing oversight to an evaluation may be the most important task for a foundation. After so much work goes into selecting an evaluator, it's important to maintain a relationship to ensure there will be no surprises in the end. A lot of disappointment in an evaluation can be avoided if the foundation maintains an appropriate level of oversight. The best way to do this is to have regular meetings with the evaluator, ask what they are learning and how they are learning it. Ask them to keep you informed, not only when results can be shared, but throughout the process of the evaluation as well. You want to know how the data are being collected, and what the evaluator has done to ensure participants’ confidentiality. You want to know if there has been any resistance to providing data to the evaluator, and if so, what is the evaluator doing about it. You want to be sure the evaluation is still on track – not just following the intended work plan, but still meeting the foundation’s needs. Making midcourse corrections in a multi-year evaluation is not at all uncommon. If you feel it's needed, ask for it.

Another factor in managing evaluations is managing expectations – the expectations of the foundation staff and board. Some staff and board members may be expecting something other than what they can reasonably expect to get – both for the money and the time allotted. As the liaison between the foundation and the evaluator, you should constantly remind the staff of what they can expect from the evaluation. If you have contracted with an evaluator to describe a community building process, and your board is expecting measurable outcomes related to health indices, they may be very disappointed. Most of the bad evaluation experiences funders have had arrive from unclear, and thus unmet, expectations. Keep talking to the evaluator – and your staff – and you should arrive at a final product everyone can be pleased with.

Evaluators can do the following to help facilitate a good working relationship with foundation staff:

  • agree on how much the foundation staff wants to know about the evaluation, when, and in what form (e.g., weekly check-ins, quarterly meetings, or monthly progress reports);

  • clarify upfront the parameters for the evaluator’s direct communication with people other than their foundation contact;

  • be honest and direct with foundation staff (for example, evaluator should inform the foundation staff immediately about challenges or problems anticipated or encountered);

  • be vigilant about the larger implications of the evaluation on the foundation and other stakeholders as well as on the field (i.e., the evaluator should be concerned about the evaluation’s potential to harm the foundation or stakeholders); and

  • generate information that is useful, succinct, without jargon, and easy for the funder to understand.

 

Contributed by Nancy Csuti, The Colorado Trust and Kien Lee, Association for the Study and Development of Community, 05/14/2007.

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