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February 21, 2012

Hoops or High Hopes?

Evidence-based, properly designed, carefully evaluated...Sound familiar? You hear these words (or similar ones) from your funders, board members, or senior managers all the time, right? Things you have to do, to be accountable. Of course, accountability is important, and we all have to 'jump through hoops' of some kind. But, in my experience, a more rewarding purpose of planning, designing, and evaluating a program is the learning that takes place within the organization.

I have seen and felt the sense of excitement when people realize they have discovered a more engaging approach to parent/family outreach that gives them valuable input, or a youth leadership program from another province that can be easily adapated locally, or a measurement tool or method that captures what people have been wanting to learn for years about building on the strengths of their own community. OK, I know that making these kinds of connections is likely not as exciting as finding your soulmate, or catching up with a long-lost friend or relative you recent found on facebook.

But I have learned that when people are only focused on meeting the expectations of others, the whole exercise of planning, designing, and evaluating is intimidating. When they learn things they really want to know themselves, that have immediate relevance for them,  their eyes light up. They become more interested in using what they have learned through evaluation to further enhance the design of their program. They show more interest in learning about what other programs are out there, from which they can learn or adapt. They return my phone calls more promptly than they used to. They now see evidence-informed planning, responsive program design and meaningful evaluation as part of an ongoing cycle that will make their programs more successful in serving their communities.

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