Evaluation in a crisis: Don’t overthink, just do

19 May 2020

Evaluation in a crisis: Don’t overthink, just do

It’s clear that many of the voluntary and community sector organisations that Traverse works with are struggling at the moment in the UK. Charities have had to adapt to continue delivering frontline services or develop new ones to meet emerging needs in a world of new public health restrictions – all amid a catastrophic loss of funding and, in some cases, lack of staff where people have been furloughed.

In some cases, evaluation has fallen fast down the list of priorities – but it’s important to remember that ‘evaluation’ in itself is not a homogenous practice. Sure, now is not the right moment for continued impact evaluation of multi-year programmes, but evaluation has many faces and need not be so traditional or comprehensive.

My advice to organisations has been to keep it simple. Evaluation is so often seen as a ‘mystifying practice’, but now, more than ever, it’s better to collect something than not collect anything through fear of being seen as unsystematic.

After all, evaluation’s value lies in its utility – it needs to serve the information needs of its users. Right now, the needs of voluntary and community sector organisations demand real-time data to inform weekly decisions about delivery, rather than demonstrating the differences that they’ve made for funders or members of the public. 

Evaluation for this purpose does not need to be theory-based with perfectly rounded edges, it just needs to capture ‘good enough’ data about the essentials on a regular basis. For new or developed services these might include: what is the problem? Who is affected, how? Who are we reaching or not reaching – why? What do people think? What, if any differences are we making? What do we need to do to improve?

A sense of intended outcomes, basic monitoring data, simple service user feedback or even reflective, anecdotal data from staff can all provide ‘good enough’ insights into these questions for the situation at hand – so long as people remain honest with themselves (and others) about how insights were generated and what limitations sit behind them. Don’t overthink, just do.

This post was first published on www.freshspectrum.com as part of their Evaluation and Covid-19 blog round-up.

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