Evaluating Partnership Efforts
While the success of a community partnership may seem self-evident, a systematic evaluation holds members to a higher standard, revealing more than what we see with the naked eye.
Indeed, an assessment of your partnership’s efforts is a valuable tool to evaluate what‘s working, and what isn’t. And it can offer insights not only about how to improve on what you are doing, but provide documentation for increased credibility.
This section offers an introduction to evaluation. It covers the basic principles of evaluation design and implementation, as well as some topics likely to be important for community partnerships working to improve long term care and supportive services.
Why is Evaluation Important?
Evaluation can help community partnerships in three key areas:
Monitor partnership progress and improve
- track project implementation efforts
- make changes to plans and efforts along the way
- understand what went well, what didn’t, and why
Understand the impact of initiatives
- determine whether or not a project is effective.
Document efforts to gain external credibility and support
- document contributions your partnership has made to the community
- use evaluation data to make the case for additional partnership funding
- provide support for individual partners seeking funding for their own endeavors
- present at and/or publish in professional, practice, or other settings
What is Evaluation?
Evaluation encompasses “any effort to increase human effectiveness through systematic data-based inquiry.” 1
In other words, it means gathering and assessing information in a way that tells us how well we’ve been doing and how we can do better.
While every evaluation is unique, all share two goals. They shed light on ways to improve our work, and they use information to reveal “truths,” rather than assumptions that are based on what we want to believe or what we think we know. 1
Patton, Michael Quinn. 2002. Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods
, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Stage Publications. Pg. 11.
Evaluation should follow some key guidelines, regardless of the form it takes:
Your partnership’s values are the bedrock of your evaluation
The decisions a partnership makes about evaluation will reflect the partnership’s values:
- What does your partnership care about?
- What are you trying to achieve?
- How do you want to achieve it?
For example, if access to home- and community-based services is valued by your partnership, you will want to know whether your efforts are expanding access to those services. If you go back to the reason your partnership exists, evaluation questions connected to your values will quickly rise to the surface.
Evaluation is a collaborative process
An evaluation team cannot and should not conduct the evaluation alone.
Partnerships may turn to an outside organization to help ensure objectivity and expertise, but the leaders and members of a community partnership are ultimately responsible for identifying their evaluation priorities, and interpreting and responding to the results.
Partnership members and other stakeholders need to be involved in almost every aspect of the evaluation. This includes deciding the evaluation questions and focus; determining the feasibility of research methods; deciding how the evaluation can best be implemented to respect program needs; and interpreting and disseminating the findings.
Evaluation is easily adapted to the principles of community-based participatory research, in which consumers and community organizations are actively involved in research that focuses on them.
The earlier it begins, the more effective evaluation will be
Think about evaluation questions as you plan your project, rather than after you plan it. Doing so will clarify program goals and establish early strategies for data collection. Also, if your evaluation is trying to determine the impact of a project, it may be important to collect certain data early, before it is influenced by the project.
Evaluation is useless unless it is usable and used
- ask the questions that you (and other audiences) need answered;
- use methods that provide the information you need and will be convincing to your audience;
- present the information in forms that people can absorb and at the time that they need them; and
- schedule times to reflect on and respond to evaluation findings.
Evaluation is conducted ethically
Evaluation raises many ethical issues, including the protection and privacy of people who participate. Evaluators must ensure that key concepts, including informed consent and confidentiality, are understood and practiced in any evaluation. See Protection of Evaluation Participants for more information.
There's no "right way" or "best method" for evaluation
The right method is the one that addresses your priorities within your budget. The next section, Four Factors in Planning Evaluation, will help you get started.
Planning the right kind of evaluation is critical to getting the information you want with the resources you have. This section covers four key factors in evaluation planning, and offers detailed information on methods and terminology.
This section describes important considerations in evaluating topics that are likely to be of concern for community partnerships working to improve the lives of older adults.