Assessing Readiness

When planning your evaluation, look at what experience and resources your organization has available so you can plan the scope and scale appropriately. If your organization is new to evaluation, you might start out small so you can build support for the process, figure out what works for the organization, and then move on to more comprehensive projects, once momentum and experience are built. In addition, it is important to think at both the individual and organizational levels—individuals must be able to carry out evaluation activities, but the organization must sustain these activities as individuals leave the organization and others come on.

There are four issues to consider, about your organization's capacity, when determining the scope and scale of an evaluation.

Does the organization value and understand evaluation?
In other words, is everyone on board with the idea of conducting evaluation? This would be reflected in an organization-wide understanding of and/or dialogue about the purpose and importance of evaluation, staff who have some experience with it, and evaluation activities being made a priority. Leadership sets the tone and priorities for staff, and having backing from management and the board of directors can increase an organization's capacity and enthusiasm for evaluation. If your organization does not value evaluation, you may want to start with a small evaluation project to demonstrate the value and build support for a more substantial investment in the future.

What are its current evaluation practices?
It is important to think about ways your organization is already using evaluation and how you might build on them to further develop your evaluation practices. In this way, you will not overcommit to conducting a grand-scale evaluation that is not feasible for your organization right away. A typical progression might be starting with small program evaluations that are done for funders, moving to internally-driven program evaluations to improve some aspect of your program, and then starting to think about developing a formal evaluation plan for your organization.

What are staff members' current evaluation skills?
When considering your organization's capacity for evaluation, you should consider the evaluation skills of your staff. Skills typically associated with evaluation include data collection and analysis, but other skills, like planning and communication could easily be applied. If the skills needed for your evaluation rest within a small number of individuals, be sure to think about how to cross-train staff so that those skills are sustained within the organization.

What organizational resources can be dedicated to evaluation?
Finally, after thinking about the evaluation experience and skills you have to work with, you next consider what resources are actually available for evaluation activities, including staff time, funding, and access to training, consultants, and other resources. This will help you determine what type of evaluation is feasible for your organization at this time. While evaluations can be quite costly (both in terms of staff time and funding), a quality evaluation can often be done by devoting some time up front to designing the evaluation and determining what data are already available or which evaluation activities can be embedded into staff's daily workflow.

The Evaluation Capacity Checklist includes a list of things to consider when thinking about your organization's capacity for evaluation. This is not intended to be a formal assessment.