Using evaluation as a strategic tool

Using evaluation as a strategic tool

Feb. 7, 2019 in Articles

Evaluation matters.

Our team at BC Healthy Communities integrates evaluation into all aspects of our work– from start to finish. Evaluation is the process of critically examining what we do and how we do it, so we can understand the outcomes of our activities, our program strengths and areas for improvement. We use our findings to inform tools, resources, planning and program decisions, and to increase accountability between our funders and community partners. It’s not always easy, but the results are invaluable.

It’s Saturday, October 2, 2018. We stand before a room of healthy cities practitioners, planners, researchers and decision makers presenting our evaluation framework for healthier communities at the International Healthy Cities Conference in Belfast, Ireland.

“Well, that went well,” I think to myself. I look around the room. There are about 25-30 people in the audience from all over the world, whispering in different languages, smiling and nodding as we share the final takeaways of our presentation. I look over at my colleague, Victoria Barr and she smiles back. I can’t help but feel humbled. Here we are, thousands of kilometres away from our office in Victoria BC, presenting our evaluation framework for healthier communities. It’s a privilege to share our ideas on evaluation with international professionals and researchers. People start asking questions and providing comments right away. A woman raises her hand and says “Well, if we all had a Diana [a research and evaluation specialist] we could do this too...”

This comment surprised us. Like other organizations, we have to balance our time and resources. We also partner with the provincial government for many of our programs, and so we feel great sense of responsibility around how we spend our staffing dollars. For us, hiring and forming a research and evaluation team was a strategic choice, one that began with the bold decision prioritize evaluation by diverting energy and resources to a full-time evaluation position. We see it as a form of accountability; a way to show our partners and the public that our work is valuable, and that we are continuously learning and striving to enhance that value. And over time, everyone on our team has come to play a role in the evaluation process—we are building an evaluation culture amongst our team.

Focusing on evaluation is proving to be valuable for us. It’s allowed our team to better understand what outcomes are occurring, under what context. We share these insights with our community partners, building rapport and accountability. Conducting evaluation also allows us to hone our skills related to goal setting, indicator development, logic modelling, and data collection and analysis. Now, as a team, we can directly support evaluative capacity in communities, and share the skills and lessons we are learning with local governments. We are directly sharing our evaluation expertise with local governments and project teams to help move their goals forward. We are always learning from communities, too. One lesson we have learned so far is that when communities collect good data on their project or program, it’s easier to make a case for future funding, promote the program, and to garner more interest from other groups, funders or decision makers.

Evaluation can be extremely beneficial for your organization, project or program. But the best part is that you don’t need a full-time research and evaluation specialist to make evaluation an integral part of your daily operations. Many people undertake some form of evaluation, but don’t do it in a formal way or don’t realize it. For example, you might already ask your team questions such as “what’s working well? Or not working well?” This is a start to evaluation, just a bit more informal. Here are the most important tips and resources to get started:

  • Ask yourself: What are your evaluation goals? If this question seems too abstract, ask: What questions do you have about your program? What would you like to know more about? For example, you might want to know about the outcomes of your efforts.
  • Read more about the types of evaluation, how to manage evaluations (of any scope) and more information and tools for different approaches. BetterEvaluation, an international collaboration to improve the practice and theory of evaluation, is one of the most useful resources I’ve come across. All its information is comprehensive, action-based and in one place. 
  • Do you have a framework or flowchart that shows how your program activities link to your outcomes and long-term goals? It’s tough to evaluate your program if you’re unclear about where you’re headed. Mapping out activities, outcomes and goals is a great way to visualize what you expect to see and hope to see because of your activities. A logic model is one tool that many evaluators use to map out these links. Check out these resources for creating logic models:

For more tips and tricks, take a look at an article on our experience at the Canadian Evaluation Society Conference, which includes a link to 10 free or affordable data collection and management tools to help you save time and money with evaluation.

About the Author

Diana Gresku, BArts Sc (Hons), MPH

Diana Gresku, BArts Sc (Hons), MPH

Former Research and Impact Specialist

Diana is passionate about understanding health inequalities and is committed to addressing health issues within her local and global communities. 

She has recently left the BC Healthy Communities team to pursue med school, but she will always be a member of the BCHC family.

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