Benchmarking Evaluation in Foundations, a study published in The Foundation Review and conducted by the Center for Evaluation Innovation for the Evaluation Roundtable, reports foundations increased resources devoted to program evaluation between 2009 and 2012 – despite economic turbulence. Not only did half increase the relative amount of funding devoted to evaluation (compared to only 17% who decreased it), but the average number of foundation employees devoted to evaluation rose from 3.0 to 4.2. The authors suggest commitment to evaluation has become deeply rooted in the philanthropic sector, and is no passing fad. Their study offers hope that best practices of data-driven, for-profit entrepreneurship have the potential to take root in the non-profit sector -- since data-driven recalculating is only possible when there are data (and the resources to collect them). However, enthusiasm for collecting volumes of data is overwhelming the social sector's ability to use those collected data effectively, the study suggests, raising serious questions about the potential for evaluation to advance social change.
- Leverage technology – Evaluators, foundations, and grantees today can collaborate more easily than ever to collect data, analyze it, and recalculate in real-time. We must do it to ensure relevance and success.
- Embrace mistakes and learn – Create a culture that actually practices open, honest dialogue, rewarding learning rather than silencing data-driven warnings to “recalculate.”
- Be pragmatic – Methodological perfection is laudable, as is collecting comprehensive data. However, small scale, doable, pragmatic evaluations often provide the timely, critical, relevant insights that make the difference between success and failure.