News & Views

A blog for those interested in what affects, motivates and drives the New York City Nonprofit Sector — written by CRE’s crackerjack consulting team. We hope you use this space to share your thoughts, ask questions and engage in conversations about our city, social justice and the nonprofit sector.

Is Evaluation an Infection?


by Louisa Hackett - Recently, a few community-based organizations, evaluators and funders gathered at the City University of New York Graduate Center to discuss, as one participant described it, the accountability regime eating us.

  In discussing how evaluation is affecting (or as some might say infecting) the nonprofit sector, speakers mentioned all the research studies that report the same obvious and well known findings: lack of childcare, healthcare, access to education, employment and transportation restrict vulnerable populations’ ability to move out of poverty.  And, even more distressing, is that funding for evaluation and research undercuts the money available for programs.  

A recent case in point is the New York City-sponsored Opportunity NYC Family rewards that paid poor people to encourage good behaviors (going to the dentist; attending school regularly) and self-sufficiency (holding down a full-time job; passing the high school Regents exam).  The program which paid out more than $14 million to over 2,500 families also cost $10.2 million to run and $9.6 million to evaluate according to the New York Times

Government and foundations interest in funding ‘evidence-based’ programs is founded on a belief that scientifically designed research methods reveal what works.  However, as the group explained, complex social problems require complex interventions and complexity can not always be easily studied like a science experiment. 

Accountability does matter.  Collecting data has the potential to improve programs.  The question becomes creating useful evaluations or feedback mechanisms to make sure programs are effective and bad programs can be improved.  As Katya Fels Smyth and Lisbeth B. Schorr point out in their paper “A Lot to Lose: A Call to Rethink What Constitutes ‘Evidence’ in Finding Social Interventions that Work,” by basing our judgments on many ways of knowing and many sources of evidence, we can avoid the false choice between relying on random assignment experiments versus relying on professions of good intentions, ideology, and a handful of anecdotes.”

How can a nonprofit respond and be equipped to explain their programs impact?  One way is for groups to take back the evaluation language and explain to funders this is how we define and measure success.  An initial step is to develop a theory of change that makes explicit the link between a program’s activities and the impact it wants to make.  Another step is to gather information, including stories that indicate progress is being made within the program’s identified domains of impact.  And finally, groups can say to those funders requesting evaluation data, “will you support our ability to gather and report evidence our program works over and above the funding for the program?” 

« Back to Blog Listings

Find us on:  CRE on Twitter CRE on Facebook CRE on LinkedIn 

News and Views  CRE RSS


Board of Directors Coaching Mohan Sikka nonprofit ownership generative accountability Pamela Dicent Valyrie Laedlein jobs RFP Useful Links New York Times New York Foundation HR Without HR evaluation NYCCCOC Fran Barrett Ximena Rua-Merkin guest blogger MAC AIDS Fund IT Sector Research civic engagement nonprofit start-ups Louisa Hackett Rona Taylor National and Community Service New York Community Trust Harvard Kennedy School Client News Government Updates Holly Delany Cole Nonprofit Quarterly Advocacy I.T. without I.T. strategic alliances Bill Ryan bookkeeping Michael Hickey Ero Gray NYS Budget CRE POV Featured Items Rashid Littlejohn New York City Government fundraising Fran's Corner Barbara Turk website, resources, announcements government CRE Executive Search Government News New York nonprofit accountability House Party hard times Albany handling the unexpected record keeping collaborations proposal writing internal controls harvard business school National Committee of Responsive Philanthropy Beth Kobliner grantmakers for effective organizations mergers nonprofit management tips President Obama media Karen Erdos leadership Data Huffington Post cre Funding Updates announcment CRE News case statement nonprofit leaders Volunteers CRE Tips Daring to Lead Pavitra Menon Jeff Ballow United Way of NYC executive board and staff relations 30th Anniversary lower Manhattan foundations Neighborhood Based Capacity Building Initiative Alliance for Nonprofit Management What is Core? publications capacity building executive transition Nonprofit Tools Data Starved grantmakers Randall Quan Hurricane Sandy Needs Assessment Peter Block community Interns rockaways Nonprofit Sustainability Stanford Social Innovation Review staff queens computers arts Governance as Leadership HIV/AIDS services providers Maria Mottola Barbara Blumenthal board leadership Development Survey Philanthropic Collaborative postponed event Nonprofit Nonprofit News Mark Light Jean Lobell nonprofit mergers