Ten years ago, fresh out of graduate school, I was asked to build the evaluation function at a Midwestern foundation. Having had no prior exposure to social sector evaluation, I started with the basics: What is evaluation? Why do we need it? What can it do for my organization? As I talked with experts in the field, attended conferences and workshops, and did my own reading, the same thread seemed to keep coming back to me: evaluation’s core purpose is to provide timely, useful, and relevant information that can drive decision-making.
Evaluation, at least in the form that we know it today, got its start with the “great society” initiative in the 1960s. The fundamental idea was that science can be put to use in solving social problems. Five decades later, our society has grown to be more complex, inter-connected, and ever-changing. To some extent, evaluation has changed with it – becoming more pluralistic and inclusive, as evidenced by the variety of approaches, methodologies, and models. However, as we continue to work in emergent and dynamic environments, it begs us to go back to evaluation’s core purpose and think about ways that evaluation can indeed stay relevant, timely, and useful.
At FSG, we have spent the past few months digging deeper into the question of how evaluation could evolve and expand, in order to continue to be of service in today’s world. As part of our Next Generation Evaluation initiative, we reviewed literature, interviewed fifteen thought leaders in the field, and studied organizations that are “pushing the envelope” around new ideas and approaches. Our research led to us to identify six characteristics that unite the social sector’s most promising efforts to expand its practice of evaluation, as well as three specific “game-changing” approaches that best embody the potential of Next Generation Evaluation.
We have captured the synthesis of our research in this new Learning Brief, which is meant to kick-start the conversation in the field around these ideas and approaches. The conversation will continue at the Next Generation Evaluation conference that we are hosting in partnership with Stanford Social Innovation Review at Stanford University on November 14th, and beyond the conference in the forms of blogs and social media. We hope that you will join us on this journey as we explore the next frontier of evaluation and learning. Feel free to post your questions and comments below, or through twitter @FSGTweets using #nextgeneval.
We look forward to hearing from you!