Level Best
By Marcia Festen and Marianne Philbin
With special thanks to the
Pratt Richards Group
for additional slides and content
Learning Objectives
• Become more familiar with basic principles of
• Learn an approach that will make ongoing
evaluation easier
Our Discussion Today
• Based on the premises, principles and
steps outlined in Level Best
• 5-Step Framework
• Worksheet
The Challenge
“It is easy to tell if you are succeeding
in business— you make money.
In philanthropy, measuring performance
can be fiendishly tricky and take a lot longer.”
Warren Buffet
“The New Powers In Giving”
The Economist, June 2006
Why Evaluate Your Program?
• To learn, plan and improve. With
limited resources, you need to be
as strategic as possible
• To better articulate the progress
you’re making toward your goals
But First…
Pick a card
Your Experience
• What’s been the best and worst you’ve
experienced relative to undertaking
• Your assumptions, anxieties, realities?
A Few Basic Principles
Evaluation becomes less daunting when
you know that…
It’s Not Research
• Monitoring – measurement, on an ongoing and
regular basis, of program implementation, or
results of a service.
• Research – the systematic process of
collecting data in a controlled environment in
order to prove or disprove a hypothesis.
Definition of Evaluation
Evaluation is the systematic process of
asking questions, and then collecting
information to help answer those questions,
in order to improve the work of your
organization, and often to
tell the story of change.
Shift your thinking
…from ‘prove’ to ‘improve”
…from ‘judge’ to ‘learn’
…from ‘after’ to ‘before’
• Rather than thinking of evaluation as the
test that follows the work, begin to think of
evaluation as the measures you put in
place beforehand to help you run your
• How will you evaluate the work you’re
planning for this year, or next year?
Many methods, much jargon
Process evaluation, outcome evaluation,
summative, formative, participatory, Logic
Model, quasi-experimental design etc.
Just start by asking:
• What do we want to know?
which is generally:
Quick Exercise
“I wish I knew whether…”
_______________________ .
Level Best Evaluation Steps
why/what you will evaluate
one-two key questions you want
the activities that you conduct, the
signs that you’re making progress
towards your goals
from what you track and what it tells
the insight you gain to shape your next
Limit it
• Rolling evaluation: our term for an
evaluation process wherein smaller
organizations choose one or two questions
to ask, or areas per year to evaluate, and
build evaluation learning year by year, over
For Example
“Although we are running 3 programs as part of our
Leadership Development project, this year we will focus
evaluation on our Parent Training Program.
“The purpose of this particular evaluation is to help
us determine whether or not to invest more in 2007 in this
particular program.”
Step 1: Planning
• Identify a project or area you’d like to evaluate.
It can be….
a priority, an idea, a particular program,
a strategy within a program, an aspect of
your process…
Avoid the BIGGEST Mistake
Know what you want to evaluate?
First step: be absolutely clear on its GOAL.
You cannot evaluate something for which no
goal has been set !
You can’t just stroll and gather…
• It is a common misperception to assume that
there is something simply “there” that will
become apparent if you “point the camera”
and shoot, or go looking in a general way.
How the Goal Shapes the Evaluation
“The Kids Will Keep Their Rooms Clean”
For Every Program
* Rationale:
We’ll agree we’ve made progress towards this
goal IF:
* STEPS to get us there:
• Fill in as we go
• Take a moment now to work together to fill
in Box B, C, D
• (for now, skip A !)
SO---Remind Everyone of the PROJECT’S GOAL
What is the desired overall outcome for
this project?
Write down the “goal statement” in Box C
Why evaluate this now?
• Box D. Write down one purpose you could
imagine having for the particular evaluation
you might conduct.
Must-Have: #1
Agreement as to the CONDITION that your
organization or program is addressing (is your youth
theater program trying to change kids, or change local
boring theater?). Clarity as to the CHANGE you hope
to make.
The question you ask will change depending
upon the condition you see yourself addressing.
Identifying the “condition”
your program addresses
For example…
Must-have: #2
A clear GOAL STATEMENT for any
program or area you want to evaluate; goal
statement typically refers to the effect you
want to have on the condition.
Step 2: Asking
• Once you determine the purpose of the
evaluation, brainstorm with your team three or
four questions you’d love to be able to answer
• Select one or two to explore in this evaluation.
Put the others on a “calendar” for next year or
the following year.
Types of Evaluation Questions
• In Process Evaluation the guiding questions focus on
the quality of a program’s components or implementation.
• In Outcome Evaluation the guiding questions focus on
the extent to which a program is achieving its desired
You do work.
When you evaluate how well you do
what you do, it’s called a
Your work has results.
It influences what people do or believe.
When you evaluate what they do, it’s called an
Lots of work produces multiple outcomes
over time.
This equals IMPACT
“Theory of Change”
The “IF” part of the statement often refers to what your
organization will do (process)
the “THEN” refers to what you hope will happen as a
result (outcome). In some circles, this is referred to as
your “Theory of Change.”
So.. are we? / did they?
• IF we offer reading tutors, THEN more
people will be able to read.
• IF we educate teens effectively about
sexually transmitted diseases, THEN
fewer will engage in unsafe practices.
Theory of Change
IF we….
Which will
lead to…
or Social
Intended IMPACT
What’s Most Important
not whether you’re doing process or outcome evaluation…
What do you want to know?
All flows from The Question
• You must ask a specific question: what you
track, consider and learn is dependent on
the question you ask.
You Can Ask/Evaluate Anything
“Are teachers benefitting from the training we offer
them? (How do we know?)”
“Do visitors like our exhibits? (How do we know?)”
“Are we serving girls as well as we serve boys
in this program? (How do we know?)”
But you must ask something!
• Evaluation is NOT about collecting massive
amounts of information, and then attempting to
sort through it later to see “what it says”
Step 3: Tracking
• List two or three things that if they occurred, would
be signs of progress, examples that might show
* making progress towards the desired
outcome for the project
* that provide information that would help you
answer the question you’ve posed.
What information would tell you if you’re making
progress toward your desired outcome?
What would you track to help you answer the
evaluation question you posed?
That’s an “indicator”
Program Example
• Desired Outcome: Our theater’s main stage
audience engagement increases
• How We’ll Know We’re Making Progress/ #1: Mainstage
attendance as a percent of total seat capacity will increase to
65% for the 2010-11 season.
• How We’ll Know We’re Making Progress/ #2: 90% of mainstage
audience members completing the end of season survey will be
“very” or “somewhat satisfied” with the season.
Organizational Example
• Desired Outcome: Board engagement
• How we'll know we're making progress / #1: 80% of
Board members will contribute $500
or more in FY2011.
• How we'll know we're making progress / #2: Each
quarterly Board meeting will have 75% attendance or
better in FY2011.
Golden Rule
In evaluation we want to measure
what we can control.
Measure What Is in YOUR Control…
Not everything that you want to achieve
in your program will be measurable.
Track What’s Closest to What YOU do
The goal of our tutoring program is to help students…
--someday get jobs
--graduate from high school
-- better homework completion rate
-- attend homework helper program
-- be referred to this program by teacher
Keep drilling down, ask “what needs to happen before that can
happen?” You can’t track it all.
S.M.A.R.T. Indicators
• Specific
• Measurable
• Attainable
• Relevant
• Time bound
Which Indicators to Track
• Refer back to the CONDITION you’re hoping to change
or address in the first place
Use What You Have
• Think creatively – how might you be able to tell
that you are achieving your desired results?
• Chances are, you’re already “evaluating” on
some level. What kinds of information are you
already routinely gathering?
There are no laws; there is no one right way. There is
no evaluation police
Peer Feedback
• Volunteers: Share your question
• Colleagues: What might your colleague track
in order to answer that question?
Don’t overdo it
“Most of the time, what funders and nonprofits really
want to know is if an intervention can have positive
outcomes given the right conditions, and if the results
are worth the investment-- and they only need to know
these answers ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’…. Usually,
this doesn’t require a great deal of time or money. It
does, however, require being very clear about what
you want to know, and why you want to know it.”
---Report from Gill Foundation
Sources of Information
• Agency Records
• Questionnaires/Surveys
• Interviews
• Focus Groups
• Direct Observation
Who Does It?
Another good reason to have an Evaluation
Working Group is to help think through the
evaluation implementation.
Who is going to:
• Collect data
• Enter it
• Compile it for review?
Step 4: Learning
Instead of thinking in terms of data analysis,
helpful to think about data interpretation.
You are looking for patterns and trends;
You are attempting to find correlation and not
What did you learn?
Do your findings speak
for themselves?
What does our data tell us?
1. How successful were we in reaching our
desired outcomes/goals?
2. What might we do next year to improve
our programs/services?
3. How might these improvements lead to
greater impact in the future?
And if you don’t like the results?
Step 5: Using
Plug your new knowledge back into the cycle!
The Evaluation Cycle
Use Evaluation Results to:
• Make Your Case
• Plan Your Next Move
• Gain Perspective
• Identify Resources Needed:
Do NOT Use Results to:
• Punish staff (though evaluation can identify
staff/management issues that need to be addressed)
• Distract from other issues or cover up a problem
• Spend over budget
• Overconfidently dismiss alternate views or approaches.
• Prove to the world how good you are (While it’s good to
toot your horn and show your results, don’t do it at the
expense of learning how to be even better.)
Where to Use Evaluation Findings
• Staff meetings
• Board meetings
• Annual planning
• Strategic planning
• Budget planning
Show and Tell
• Proposals/Report
to funders
• Annual report
• Board meetings
Rolling Evaluation
Don’t forget! The purpose of rolling evaluation is
to isolate one or two key questions to ask PER
year. So when you have successfully completed
one cycle, begin again by revisiting some of the
questions you “shelved” last year.
Level Best Evaluation Steps
identifying your evaluation goals
one-two key questions you want
the activities that you conduct, the
signs that you’re making progress
towards your goals
from what you track and what it tells
the insight you gain to shape your next

Level Best - Grassroots Evaluation Presentation