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Our 9 Types of Evaluation Work – Which are Useful to You?

Deepti Sood, Associate Director, Evaluation and Learning

On a cold, rainy day in February, all seven members of TCC Group’s evaluation team came together for a retreat. With our team spread across the country, this retreat was a unique opportunity for in-person team building and reflection. Most interestingly, we completed an exercise to classify the types of work we are talking about when we say “evaluation.”

The end result? Clarity around the nine types of evaluation work we do.

I’m pleased to share these categories and our thinking around the types of evaluation questions TCC Group is well-suited to answer.

#1: Evaluation Planning & Framework Design

Evaluation planning and framework design projects entail outlining what ongoing tracking, monitoring, learning, or evaluation work will look like within an organization or program. We like to think about evaluation planning as having four concrete steps:

  1. Mapping of a theory of a program (perhaps by a logic model, theory of change, or another visual tool);
  2. Creating evaluation questions to test the theory;
  3. Noting data sources and indicators that could answer each evaluation question; and
  4. Writing an evaluation plan that notes what data will be measured, by whom, how often, and how information will be shared.

Key Question: What are you trying to achieve, and how will you measure it?

#2: Retrospective Evaluation

Perhaps what most people think of when thinking of evaluation, retrospective evaluations are summative evaluations that look at what a program or grant initiative has achieved to date. These projects often have concrete goals that are used to benchmark the progress made.
Key Question: Did we achieve our objectives? Why or why not?

#3: Formative Evaluation

Formative evaluation projects are extremely learning-focused and aim to help clients get the real-time feedback they need to make better strategic decisions. This can happen formally (e.g., biannual or annual written reports on progress and process) or informally (e.g., through monthly check-in calls to see what we’ve learned as observers of a program in action).
Key Question: How are we doing? How can we improve?

#4: Developmental Evaluation

Developmental evaluation looks deeply at complex and non-linear work to help organizations figure out how programs are changing, what outcomes are being reached, and what within the broader system is having an influence on the work. Within developmental evaluation, TCC Group often uses our research and development (R&D) approach to think about what’s working, for whom, and under what conditions.
Key Question: What’s happening? Where do we go next?

#5: Data Diagnostics and Management

These projects involve assessing or taking charge of the data that a client is collecting. In the assessment phase, this would include seeing how the data is currently being used for analysis and learning, and looking at if other data sources or indicators would better serve the client’s needs. On the management side, it includes helping clients create ways to manage the amount and flow of information so it is both useful and useable.
Key Question: What data are we collecting? What data system do we need?

#6: Evaluation Capacity Building

Pure capacity-building projects help us help the sector develop the evaluative skills necessary to continue to learn and develop. These activities often include designing capacity-building programs that span several months, presenting at conferences, delivering workshops, or providing ongoing coaching. TCC’s team provides these services for nonprofits, foundations, and corporate citizenship programs – and we also help these types of organizations plan their own capacity-building programs to increase evaluative capacity. We also thread capacity building into many of our projects by integrating clients into the work whenever possible.
Key Question: How can we increase our own capacity to understand and use evaluation?

#7: Research

These projects typically are field reviews and original research that focus on a few big questions within a content area. Work can range from literature reviews, to benchmarking what others are doing, to researching to inform program design. For example, we are currently working with clients to explore the fields of legal advocacy and campaign structure to better understand how these fields function.
Key Question: What are others doing in a field?

#8: Evaluation Program and Grants Management

In this role, TCC Group staff serve as evaluation program officers, grant managers, or outsourced evaluation specialists and provide evaluation services  for a foundation or nonprofit that does not have enough staff capacity on their internal evaluation team or for an organization that wants an external expert to serve as their evaluation staff. We may create RFPs to conduct evaluations, design evaluation components of grant management systems, help write evaluation sections of grants, or create shared metrics.
Key Question: How can we have an evaluation function without hiring an evaluation officer?

#9: Organizational Assessments

Last but not least – the team is able to complete a more objective organizational assessment that looks comprehensively at an organization’s capacity in a variety of areas, often used to inform capacity-building work. We use our bench of existing tools – including the Core Capacity Assessment Tool and the Foundation Core Capacity Assessment Tool – as well as create robust new mechanisms and do thorough financial reviews, document reviews, and interviews when necessary to create a comprehensive understanding of an organization’s capacity.
Key Question: Do we have the capacity we need to do our work?

Our team works with nonprofits, foundations, and corporate citizenship clients alike to answer these evaluation questions. Which questions resonate the most for you?

This blog post was updated on 6/27/16.

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