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High quality research and evaluation within New Zealand’s social services sector
The paper presented a case study of how a large philanthropic trust focused on family social health and wellbeing engaged with their grant recipients to improve outcome-focused evaluation practices. The Trust also aimed to improve their evaluation of grants and to create an evaluation framework to establish the value and cumulative impact of projects funded. The challenges and benefits of a collaborative approach to developing the skills and knowledge needed to undertake or commission effective outcome-focused evaluation are explored.
Partnering with a community funding broker and a research company, the Trust provided an evaluation capacity building programme, conducted over several months for 33 grant recipients ranging from small to large NGOs. The ‘Dancing with Data Evaluation Programme’ was based on the premise that evaluation provides a platform for collaborative learning, accountability and focused strategy.
The study aimed to determine how successful the programme was in contributing to building an organisation’s evaluation capacity. Qualitative methods were used including a document review, face-to-face interviews of key stakeholders and a survey of participants.
The learning objectives of the programme were successfully met as evidenced by the majority of participants completing an organisation-wide evaluation plan and utilizing a wider range of evaluation tools to evidence outcomes to inform their development and funding applications. Participants valued sharing evaluation experiences and some formed new collaborations. The majority of evaluation plans met or exceeded expectations with a few needing further assistance to complete. Both participants and the Trust saw value in integrating evaluation into their operational and strategic plans. The Trust utilized the findings from the evaluation of the programme to inform their own evaluation practices.
The implications for evaluation practice are that a genuine partnership between funders and recipients to build evaluation capacity requires dedicated funding, time, commitment to mutual learning and improving current practice.