The organizational context within which monitoring and evaluation for public engagement are conducted has an impact on the evaluation process and outcomes. Evaluation is valuable not only as a tool for responding to funders (i.e. funder-directed or mandated evaluation), but also as a way for the organization to reflect on and learn from its work internally and to determine if long-term goals and outcomes are being met. It is critical that monitoring and evaluation activities are properly resourced and supported, including both financial and human resources as well as attention from the organization’s leadership.
Consider these questions:
- How does your organization view monitoring and evaluation? As a valuable tool from which you can learn? As a means of measuring your progress towards long-term change through public engagement? Or as strictly a funding requirement? Do you do it for yourselves? Or for others’ sake?
- Who is accountable for monitoring and evaluation in your organization? Is there buy-in on the importance of monitoring and evaluation from all levels of the organization? How is that exhibited?
- How does the organization plan to learn from its monitoring and evaluation?
- Promote multiple accountability: Monitoring and evaluation activities should answer questions that are important to the organization and participants, as well as those identified by funders. It is helpful if there is an overall organizational plan or approach to monitoring and evaluation in place (i.e. one flowing from the organization’s theory of change).
- As a learning organization, all relevant stakeholders (e.g. leadership, staff, project participants, funders, etc.) should be engaged as appropriate throughout the stages of monitoring and evaluation (planning, implementation, reporting). Stakeholders can then identify important evaluation questions (both for the specific public engagement project and for the organization as a whole) and ensure buy-in and support for monitoring and evaluation. When identifying stakeholders to engage in this process, be sure to consider the needs of participants using a gender/anti-oppressive lens.
- It may also be helpful to take a longer-term view than just the timeline of a public engagement project when evaluating outcomes for the organization as a whole.
- If the outcomes are unexpected or not positive, be sure to include a learning component to the evaluation for internal growth and development.
- Too often, monitoring and evaluation are driven by the requirements of project funders. Organizations get stuck in the often-limited boxes provided by funders, causing a silo effect in their organizations and a missed opportunity for learning. While accountability to funders is an important function of monitoring and evaluation, ensuring accountability is only one of its many functions.
“We feel, and are, really accountable to the funders. So if they want the numbers of participants, that’s sometimes all they’re interested in seeing. One meeting with one funder was quite shocking, where we were basically told in no uncertain terms that the unintended results that we thought were amazing – they fundamentally altered how we were doing some things – were of no interest to them. As they pass these results up the line, the only thing that starts to matter is how many people attended this workshop and how many volunteers there were. This was difficult to hear, since we didn’t see that as having as much of an impact. It is disempowering in terms of the work that we do, if it is reduced to just those numbers.”
-Project Coordinator for a small NGO