Evaluation With Power

A New Approach to Organizational Effectiveness, Empowerment, and Excellence

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 1 (Spring 1998)

Sandra Trice Gray and Associates

1998, 178 pages, Independent Sector/Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, California 94104, 415-433-1740

Independent Sector and Jossey-Bass Publishers recently released Evaluation With Power. In the forward, evaluator Michael Quinn Patton states, "This book offers an antidote to the infectious "nothing works" mentality. What works are organizations that are effective, excellent, and empowering. Ongoing evaluation is a tool for creating, sustaining, and enhancing such organizations." The book's premise is that ongoing evaluation is the key to developing organizational capacity and resilience. This is not a book about traditional evaluation using data collection, sampling procedures, and quantitative or qualitative analysis. Instead, the authors promote a new type of evaluation they term "coevaluation" — evaluation that is “cooperative, continuous, and constructive.” They describe “simple processes that can be used as part of (the) daily routine.” The three steps in the coevaluation process are 1) ask good questions; 2) collect the right information; and 3) share the information and make decisions.

Independent Sector helped develop this evaluation approach as the result of regional and national roundtables in Kansas City, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Teams of CEOs and board chairs participated from a cross-section of nonprofit organizations, along with representatives from foundations and corporate giving programs. Among the roundtables' not-so-surprising findings:

  • The relationship between grant makers and grant seekers plays an important role in evaluation.
  • There is a need and a desire to make evaluation an ongoing and integrated part of an organization's life.
  • There is a perceived void in information and methodology for evaluating outcomes.
  • Changing attitudes and beliefs about evaluation
    and the information it provides is a key factor in changing behavior.

Participants listed the “mind-sets” that present obstacles to effective evaluation, and also described “mind-sets” that present opportunities to enhance evaluation activities. For example:

Obstacles: “It (i.e. evaluation) requires experts and is expensive to do. It has to be complex, simple isn't OK. It must be quantitative not qualitative. Never assess the work of volunteers or Board members or you might lose them. The assessment needs to make the foundation look good.”

Opportunities: “It is OK to fail and learn from it. We must get beyond the human fear of being judged. You can get useful information in short time frames from uncomplicated efforts. Everyone benefits (grantmakers, nonprofits, participants) from good assessment information. Our organization's mission will be strengthened through good assessment.”

This book offers many practical suggestions, written in plain English. Particularly when compared to academic evaluation texts, the book is user-friendly, and thus provides a helpful introduction for organizations just beginning to consider how they can measure and demonstrate their program and organizational strengths. Since the book was not written for an arts audience, readers will have to translate some of the terminology to make it practical for cultural endeavors. However, many portions of the book, for example, chapters about board and staff evaluation, apply to any nonprofit.