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Section 3. Understanding Community Leadership, Evaluators, and Funders: What Are Their Interests?

Learn and understand what each of these three stakeholders really wants, and you will likely succeed in your evaluation.

 

  • Who are community leaders, evaluators and funders?

  • Why should you understand the interests of these groups?

  • When should you understand the interests of these groups?

  • What are the interests of these groups?

  • How do you determine interests?

You want to know more about how your group is doing, but others you work with want to know whether you are making a difference. Welcome to the world of evaluation. If you are a community initiative, you will want to evaluate your effort. You will need to devote some time and energy to planning the evaluation process. Like many other aspects of community health and development, an evaluation will ultimately be more beneficial if you spend the time and energy searching for ways to successfully begin and complete an evaluation.

One step in the planning process includes understanding and recognizing the interests of stakeholders in the evaluation. The stakeholders include community leaders, evaluators, and funders, and you will want to know how the evaluation will be used by each of them.

The evaluation should respond to the interests of those three stakeholders, and nothing is more productive than designing it together. The evaluation can serve the community leaders' interests, the funders' interests, and the evaluators' interests in a single useful product, if you know what they want before you start. It's important to define the stakeholders interests in using the evaluation so that it can focus on optimally answering questions important to all of them.

What do we mean by needs and interests? Needs and interests are those qualities which community leadership, evaluators, and funders see as important for doing their jobs well. Because each of these stakeholders is looking at the evaluation from a unique perspective, it helps to recognize those differences, and incorporate them into the evaluation.

For starters, let's consider why you'd want to conduct an evaluation in the first place.

There are many basic reasons why stakeholders want an evaluation:

  • To be accountable as a public operation
  • To assist those who are receiving grants to improve
  • To improve a foundation's grantmaking
  • To assess the quality or impact of funded programs
  • To plan and implement new programs
  • To disseminate innovative programs
  • To increase knowledge

A stakeholder may want an evaluation for one, two or all of these reasons. Evaluators may want to increase knowledge, funders may want to improve grantmaking and community leaders may want to assess quality. Community leaders may not want to answer more than a phone interview by a student intern, evaluators may be interested in systematic, disciplined inquiry, and funders may look for accountability.

When it comes time for evaluation, you don't have to be specialists in order to make good decisions about what you will do. You should, however, be knowledgeable about uses of evaluations and how they match the many interests involved so that you can make informed choices.

Who are community leaders, evaluators and funders?

Community leaders

May include staff, administrators, committee chairpersons, agency personnel and civic leaders, and trustees of an initiative. They may have little knowledge of evaluation, nor feel they have much time to provide data or read data reports. Yet, the evaluation must be responsive, useful and sensitive to their decision-making requirements. They often are interested in how to improve the functioning of their initiative.

Evaluators

Are often professionals, though anyone can design and implement an evaluation. There are several professional associations that support evaluators and have established standards of practice, such as the American Evaluation Association or its Collaborative, Participatory, and Empowerment Evaluation Topical Interest Group. Evaluators can be private consultants, university or foundation staff, or a member of the initiative. Evaluators are often interested in the systematic production of useful, reliable information.

Funders

Are those individuals or organizations who provide financial support for the initiative. They might include program officers or other representatives of government agencies, foundations, or other sources of financial support. Some funders have built a formal evaluation into their regular activities, but they are in the minority. Funders are often interested in whether the use of their funds is having an impact on the problems facing communities.

Why should you understand the interests of these groups?

So, you understand the idea in principle, but why do you need to understand the needs of leaders, evaluators and funders? The information needs of various groups can be very different, so it's important to take into account the kinds of information that will be convincing and useful to the target audiences. Knowing this will help you decide what information is needed and the tools you could use to obtain it.

While you may know your group does good work, chances are good that other important members of the community do not know what you do. Consequently, others who have supported and encouraged your efforts will want to know what has worked, and what hasn't worked; and what should change and what should stay the same. Because these groups or individuals might be instrumental in assisting your work, financially or otherwise, it makes good sense to include their needs in the evaluation process.

Even more important is the requirement that the information used is effectivel. The question is: To whom is it useful? If there's no direction to your information gathering, you can collect just about anything you want, but so what? If it doesn't matter to anyone else, it is meaningless. If I collect information about the number of people that my agency serves, I may find that useful, especially if I'm reimbursed for that number. But what if someone really wanted to know if the efforts of the agencies in town had an impact on a health problem. The number of people my agency serves might not be that useful.

The interests, which helps us determine the information we need, lead us to develop tools to collect it. In other words it is the interests of the stakeholders that shape the inquiring.

  • What are the interests of the stakeholders?
  • What information will help them?
  • What questions will you ask to get that information?
  • What tools will help you collect it?

In the long run, including the stakeholders in the process will lead to greater collaboration and organizational capacity to solve community problems. Understanding stakeholders' interests will enable you to employ your resources better. Knowing what everyone wants and needs will help you plan the optimal evaluation.

When should you understand the interests of these groups?

You will want to identify stakeholders from the get-go. By going through a process of stakeholder identification before you begin evaluating, you will be able to obtain their views and incorporate their ideas and needs into the evaluation itself.

Of course, the sooner you identify the needs and interests of those groups, the sooner you will be able to gain understanding of the different issues each group is interested in without wasting time or money. You also have to be watchful so that if interests change, you can adapt to those changes in a timely manner and keep your evaluation valid.

What are the interests of these groups?

How do we find these people?

First and foremost, you and other members of the group will need to sit down, pour a cup of joe, and grab a pencil. Think about the individuals and groups that have needs that should be addressed in the evaluation. You should try to figure out what their interests are.

Of course, some people may ask, "Why them? Our group's interests and needs should be the focus of the evaluation." In one sense, this is true. One of the main purposes of the evaluation process includes providing feedback and ideas for the group itself so members can improve and strengthen their efforts. But remember, everyone is in this together, the community funders and those who will conduct the evaluation. You want the best information possible information that will help you make the best decisions.

But, at the same time, there are other factors to consider.

Over the course of your brainstorming session, you should identify as many stakeholders as you can.

To identify stakeholders, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who provides funding for our initiative?
  • Who will conduct the evaluation?
  • Who do we collaborate with?

Once you know who these people are, find out what they want. To do this, let's take a look at the groups. Then, we'll talk about the specific needs and interests of members of each of these groups.

Community leaders

What will this group need from your evaluation? The information should be:

  • Clear and understandable: They may have limited knowledge about the goings-on of your group, or about evaluations. Immediately, then, you know that the evaluation must be clear and understandable.
  • Efficient: They probably have a variety of different responsibilities which demand their time and consideration, so they won't want to waste time reading information irrelevant to their needs.
  • Responsive: They may include decision-makers that can affect the future of your group. Therefore, your evaluation needs to be responsive to their decision-making requirements.
  • Sensitive: They will want to know what the initiative has accomplished, so the evaluation should be sensitive to the activities and accomplishments of the initiative.
  • Useful: They will include decision-makers for the initiative, so the evaluation needs to show them how their efforts can be improved.

Evaluators

They will be assessing the effectiveness of the initiative in meeting its goals. What do they need to get out of the evaluation?

  • Input: The evaluation team needs to receive input from the initiative's clients --including community leadership, funders, and members of the initiative itself, in order to know what the clients want to learn about the initiative.
  • Accurate and Complete Information: In a similar vein, the evaluators need accurate and complete information in order to answer the questions posed by the stakeholders.
  • Cooperation: Finally, the evaluators will need cooperation from participants and officials in order to obtain needed data.

Funders

They will need:

  • Clear and timely reports: Because of their responsibilities for making decisions concerning the continuation of financial support, the funders will need information about the progress of the initiative.
  • Evidence of community change and impact: Funders will need to be able to measure the success of the initiative and report this to their own trustees or constituents.

How do you determine interests?

Now you know what interests you're looking for, you have to determine a way of finding them. You need to match people with what their interests are, whether it's through a survey, an interview, or some other method. Failure to determine interests is often the source of problems and misunderstandings along the way and can became disastrous if it turns out that different stakeholders had different expectations and priorities.

Some of the questions that you can ask stakeholders to match them with their interests in an evaluation are:

  • What are the evaluation's strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you think the evaluation is moving toward its desired outcomes?
  • Which kind of implementation problems came up, and how are they being addressed?
  • How are staff and clients interacting?
  • What is happening that wasn't expected?
  • What do you like, dislike, or would like to change in the evaluation process?

From the answers you get, you can determine what each party wants out of the evaluation. You can also group those who have similar interests. For instance, you may find out that a community leader and an evaluator are interested in improving their managing abilities through the evaluation process. You have made a match, and those two will work toward a common goal.

Here are some ways of determining interests and matching them with stakeholders:

  • Interviews: Get a representative from each group of stakeholders and ask away. Be direct in your questions so that you can quickly get to the point you're trying to make, that is, what interests this stakeholder has and if they match with some other stakeholders' interests.
  • Surveys: You can send out a written questionnaire to assess how the stakeholders rank their interests and which group wants what. The survey must be succinct and direct, asking clear questions about the evaluation in terms of quality and goals. Survey results are easy to utilize and can be helpful for the evaluation presentation.
  • Phone surveys: They can save you time and money, if you're doing them locally. You can use the same questions you would use in a written survey, but leave more space for commentary, as people tend to talk more when speaking to a person on the phone. Just be sure your phone surveys don't stray from your objective.
  • Brainstorm sessions: Arrange a meeting with stakeholder representatives and brainstorm interests and possibilities for the evaluation's outcome. Bring up problems such as continuity of the program, obtaining funds, coordinating activities, and attracting staff, and let stakeholders have their say. Everybody will come out from the brainstorming session with new ideas and a much better notion of everybody else's ideas.

Besides these methods, you should always conduct a survey after the completion of the evaluation. This will benefit external audiences and decision-makers. Remember, if changes need to be made, don't be afraid to follow through with them.

Remember that decisions about how to improve a program tend to be made in small, incremental steps based on specific findings aimed at making the evaluation a better process for all stakeholders involved.

Now armed with this list of needs and interests, you can find or develop the tools to obtain useful information. The next sections will explore ways to select an evaluation team and present some key questions for the evaluation process. Later, we will be discussing how to evaluate your community initiative!

In Summary

Once you have a clear idea of what each stakeholder really wants, you are very likely to succeed in your evaluation. Be sure to revise frequently the interests of all the stakeholders involved so that you don't lose focus of what you're looking for with your evaluation. The hard part of your evaluation work starts now!

Contributor 
Eric Wadud
Marcelo Vilela

Online Resources

CDC Evaluation Resources provides a list of resources for evaluation, as well as links to key professional associations and key journals.   

Developing an Effective Evaluation Plan is a workbook provided by the CDC. In addition to information on designing an evaluation plan, this book also provides worksheets as a step-by-step guide.

Evaluating Your Community-Based Program is a handbook designed by the American Academy of Pediatrics covering a variety of topics related to evaluation.

McCormick Foundation Evaluation Guide is a guide to planning an organization’s evaluation, with several chapters specifically dedicated to gathering information and using it to improve the organization.    

The Program Manager's Guide to Evaluation is a handbook provided by the Administration for Children and Families with detailed answers to nine big questions regarding program evaluation. 

User-Friendly Handbook for Program Evaluation is a guide to evaluations provided by the National Science Foundation.  This guide includes practical information on quantitative and qualitative methodologies in evaluations.

Print Resources

Council on Foundations. (1993) Evaluation for foundations. San Francisco: CA. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Fawcett, S., Francisco, V., Paine, A., Lewis, R., Richter, K., Harris, K., Williams, E., Berkely, J., Schultz, J., Fisher, J., & Lopez, C. (1994). Work group evaluation handbook: evaluating and supporting community initiatives for health and development. Lawrence, KS: Work Group on Health Promotion and Community Development, University of Kansas.

Patton, M. (1996). Utilization-focused evaluation: The new century text. London. Sage Publications.