The Value of Rigorous Evaluation

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Value of Rigorous Evaluation

Although evidence-based funding and policymaking are gaining momentum in philanthropy and government, a study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy suggests that we still have a long way to go. Seventy-one percent of the nonprofit leaders surveyed reported that their funders provided no support for program assessment or evaluation. Unless we invest more resources in our capacity to measure the performance and evaluate the impact of programs, how can funders and nonprofits be confident that they are making a real difference in people’s lives? And how can we expect to improve programs’ performance and increase their impact without building and examining the evidence of what works and what doesn’t?

I understand the reluctance of many fellow funders and practitioners to undertake rigorous evaluation. It can be costly, diverting resources from the direct delivery of desperately needed services. It can be scary—by their very nature, randomized control trials frequently show smaller impacts than less rigorously designed evaluations. Many people worry, “What if the findings suggest that the program I’m supporting or running is not as effective as I believe it is?”...

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