By the Numbers: Evaluation Data Helps Community Build Effective Programming
Data collection may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the hands-on work that happens in community, but it plays an integral role in designing initiatives that impact the people they serve.
Shelby Corley, a Credentialed Evaluator and co-founder of Three Hive Consulting, ensures that programs are able to create programming that works in reality, by getting creative while collecting data at every stage of an initiative’s journey.
“We help people to look at their programs and initiatives and see what’s working, what’s not, and what recommendations from the data can collect,” said Corley, who worked with REACH Edmonton on the Bridging Together project for two years.
Bridging Together Out of School Time Collaborative is a partnership of that includes community groups, Community leaders, Service delivery agencies, and Local institutions
These partners work together to empower immigrant and refugee children and youth who are new to Canada to integrate into Canadian society. This is done by providing culturally appropriate after-school and summer programs.
“At REACH we do our best to evaluate everything we do,” said Lisa Kardosh, Project Manager for Bridging Together at REACH Edmonton. “Evaluation lets us know if our initiatives are making a real difference in the lives of the people connected to them. We know that nothing is perfect and evaluation results help to inform the project as it unfolds and influences the collaborative’s decisions on whether to continue as we are, or if we need to pivot to strengthen any aspect of the collaborative.”
Evaluation is especially important when partners are trying something new that hasn’t been done before. Bridging Together is a collaborative that had history of working together, but with funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, could work together to achieve more focused goals with the staff support to ensure goals were met.
“Because we were working more collaboratively for the first time, we wanted to make sure we were identifying problems early and making an impact in the lives of newcomer children and youth,” said Kardosh.
This is where Three Hive came in.
“We worked with REACH and their partner organizations to develop an evaluation plan as collaboratively as we could, knowing each of the programs had a different process,” said Corley.
This included creating desired outcomes and common ways to measure those outcomes throughout the partnership through surveys, interviews and arts-based feedback.
“We wanted to capture participants’ experiences of being in the program and outcomes such as increased confidence, adjustment to Canadian society, better academic intentions and performance,” she said.
“We also did a social network analysis,” she said. “This included looking at each of the partner organizations. How well connected are they to each other and REACH? Do they trust each other? What do the relationships look like among the partners?”
What makes Three Hive different is their size, which is a valuable facet when dealing with multi-faceted partnerships.
“I think that allows us to be a little more nimble or agile not bound to internal corporate processes able to adapt to the situation as it goes,” said Corley.
The evaluation process not only gave partners valuable information about their programming, but gave them the resources to communicate more clearly to their funders, participants and communities about the essential work they are doing.
“For some partners, who haven’t had their programs evaluated before in this way, it was helpful to have quantitative and qualitative data that shows their programs are effective,” said Kardosh.
“We’ve shared the Year 2 results quite broadly among our networks, including with the funder. I think having an unbiased third-party report to show our success is so important to be able to justify the worth of this collaborative to the funder we had, as well as potential future funders.”
The final report was also useful in its ability to be adaptable into different methods of communicating project highlights. Thanks to the data Three Hive collected, REACH was able to develop a one page brochure, based off the final report content, for partners to share with people who want short, simple description.
In addition to supporting projects like Bridging Together, Three Hive is also focused on making evaluation more accessible to the community.
“One misconception is that evaluation has to be expensive,” said Corley. “But you can incorporate evaluation principles with no budget.”
This is the idea behind Eval Academy, which aims to bring the basics of evaluation principles and thinking to anyone free of charge.
Through a website at Evalacademy.com, Corley hopes to create a space for people to learn how to incorporate evaluation into project planning and design.
“We want to bring evaluation education to people who find themselves having to do evaluation in their work,” said Corley. “They may not have a budget but a lot of these components are totally doable by program staff. We want to bring some of that knowledge to a broader audience in plain language through relatable content.”
The site will feature educational resources on how to design an evaluation or a survey.
“We want people to have access to a resource that’s less jargony. Not for evaluators but people who find themselves doing evaluation.”
Evaluation Academy, which has free templates and tools to help with evaluation design, can be found at www.evalacademy.com.