By Catherine Smith, Director of Learning and Innovation, Sangfroid Strategy
Program evaluation is not something that just happens at the end of a program. Quality program evaluation is integrated into the program from the start, and can be used to both understand how to improve your program, and to see how well you are addressing the problems you are trying to solve.
Today we’ll share 5 simple ways to enhance your ability to measure your program’s impact and improve in real-time.
1. Start with the basics.
Deeply understand your purpose. Is your program seeking changes in behaviors? Attitudes? Is it about making connections or moving through a process from beginning to end? The key to being able to measure your program’s value, is to know your program’s intent.
You may be thinking “of course I know my program’s intent.” But knowing your program’s mission is just part of this process; you need to deeply understand the change you hope to see as a result of your everyday actions. Zoom out, and think about this holistically. Has this changed since the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, read our last blog about realigning your nonprofit’s mission.
2. Reconsider the concept of ‘data’ collection.
One of our favorite magic tricks is to turn data into information and information into insight. But, here’s the secret, you can do it too. Once you know what you’re working towards, you need to determine what will indicate that you got there. Data can come from so many different places in your program, and we can help you measure what matters. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Registration / Intake information: Think about what you are collecting here, and ask if it tells you everything you want to know about your participants (demographics, frequency of visits, zip codes, etc.)
Stories / Testimonials: Do your volunteers send you raving reviews after events? Do your clients share their appreciation? When appropriate, document these! Ask for permission to share the opinions of the people who are closest to your program; after all, they know best.
Create feedback loops: Utilize technology, social media, and shared spaces for feedback. In official terms these may be interviews and focus groups, but we like to think out of the box and use tech like FlipGrid or reflection sessions with stakeholders to understand how programs impact the community.
Take notes: When you are discussing your program, making decisions, or working with different people, document it. Analyzing these notes later can help you see how your program progressed.
Remember that process data matters too! Do you reach clients better in the mornings? Are people more likely to show up on a Tuesday? The more tracking you have for your processes, the better you are able to analyze and determine program improvements later.
3. Structure and organize your data collection.
Collect and store ALL data in a centralized location.
Now more than ever, you may be working from different locations and with many different people. Take time to structure your data collection TOGETHER. This is one of the single most important things you can do for your organization. Determine where data “lives” and put it there for safe keeping. When you update what you collect, make a place to keep it—whether it is a tracker for each time someone calls, or a form for documenting the praise your case workers receive. Add each of the indicators to your data collection sources as they develop, and build systems that automate when possible.
Feeling inspired? Get started today by considering how technology like data dashboards, Google Form integrations, or tracking sheets can support these goals.
4. Gather the information as it comes.
Remember what we said about data being information? Each time you receive new data, turn it into shared information with all your team members. If you have regular check-ins, add data collection to the agendas for those check-ins & document what you talk about.
Some of the best data comes from the most simple sources, such as weekly-meeting notes. Assign someone to document the discussions you have on a regular basis, and add it to the shared data files.
Plus, if you keep up with this in real-time you have a lot less work to do later (whew)!
5. Make systems that work for your team.
Are your staff members in the field 80% of the day? Entering data and information straight into a spreadsheet probably won’t be easy. Consider the unique needs of your team, and the style of work that they have, and put systems in place that can be easily managed by the people working hardest on your program’s day-to-day success.
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Need help getting started? Schedule a free 30-minute consultation and let’s chat about how we can help you measure your impact and communicate your value.
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