A new report from Public/Private Ventures calls for a more nuanced approach to evaluating the effectiveness of nonprofit initiatives, rejecting rigid models based on a narrow determination of success or failure.
The report, Priorities for a New Decade: Making (More) Social Programs Work (Better) (12 pages, PDF), recommends an approach that fully engages nonprofit practitioners as partners in evaluation efforts, reflects a deep understanding of local circumstances and constraints, and produces guidelines for evaluation and scaling that support program quality and performance. The report's authors argue that current nonprofit program evaluations often fail to provide sufficient information about how to improve program performance or scale up an effective program.
Specific recommendations contained in the report include establishing clearer guidelines vis-a-vis how evaluation can meet the particular needs and contexts of different kinds of programs; forging closer working partnerships among program practitioners, researchers, and funders; involving practitioners in the design of evaluation and data collections systems; emphasizing collaboration among practitioners, evaluators, and funders to develop program assessment models and evaluate organizational capacity; and pushing funders to make a greater effort to translate specific evaluation findings into practical lessons.
"Now more than ever, public and private funders need evidence to show whether the programs they support actually work," said P/PV president Nadya K. Shmavonian. "With increasingly scarce resources — and growing human need — reliable information is needed...to help funders and policy makers make wise decisions about spending, and to ensure that promising social programs have the fair chance to emerge and evolve smartly over time."