Deciding on the Focus of Evaluation at this Time
There are several key considerations in deciding how to focus evaluation: 1) specifically what the group wants to learn about its work; 2) what kinds of questions are “answerable” at a particular point in time in the flow of one’s work – keeping in mind reasonable expectations of progress towards racial equity; 3) accountability to constituents, funders and the group’s own goals and expectations; 4) what decisions are to be informed by results of evaluations; and 5) when information needs to be provided to inform those decisions. The answers to these questions should drive decisions about evaluation questions, methods and timing. While these questions may seem straightforward, different stakeholders often have very different assumptions about what is most important to look at, and when.
One tip in designing evaluations of complex racial equity work is for a group to bring to the surface all the questions that as many stakeholders as possible, from different positions in the work, hope the evaluation can answer. Then evaluators can figure out which ones are answerable at given points in time. For instance, a leadership development group might want to know if its work is contributing to improved working conditions for farm laborers in a rural community. Right now, it can see if their work is engaging with the kinds of community leaders they intend, and if those community leaders are gaining new skills and insights. In a few months, they can see if those skills and insights have been applied in efforts to engage employers and laborers in ways intended, and in a few years, they can see if early changes have influenced further changes in the direction they hope. Right now, they can also look at their own internal working as a leadership development group – in terms of the extent to which their own practices align with social justice and equity values and principles. Once the group is clear about what is answerable among the questions they care about, they can begin to think about priorities for answering them. Those priorities then ground evaluation methods, resources and timing.