Finding and Describing the Value
Evaluations are often undertaken to prove to external stakeholders (usually funders, partners, authorities) that a program or service is “worth” their support. This means providing external stakeholders with evidence of “value” for their investment, whether that investment was made in money, time, energy, or dedication.
In social purpose initiatives, “value” means being able to move the needle on a social challenge that is negatively affecting individuals, families, communities, and social infrastructure. This may include social and environmental, as well as financial or economic components. But how do we describe that value?
Unfortunately, many evaluation methods have been concerned primarily with gathering outputs. Outputs are more easily counted, like numbers of people, hours, dollars, resources, or social media “likes”. However, outputs alone do not tell the fuller story of what has actually changed because of an initiative. For example, we may know how many people participated in a particular program, but do we know the ways in which their knowledge, actions, capacities or lives may have changed as a result of that program? Those kinds of outcomes may tell us more about how families, communities, and social infrastructure are being affected. And what about the wider ripple-effect? To truly understand the impact and value of an initiative, we may also need to understand how communities, society, or systems have changed.
To tell the fuller story of the changes that result from an initiative, it is also beneficial to look at changed trajectories over time. Keeping an eye on intermediate or longer-term results can reveal more subtle but deeper changes that can be directly or indirectly attributed to the initiative. Other longterm changes may be part of a larger effort by a number of partners and larger contextual forces. Assessing the various contributions that a project, program or organization makes to its “ecosystem” therefore gives us a more comprehensive understanding of the value its work.