The movement toward greater use of data and evidence in social programs is encouraging, and there is a widely shared commitment to achieving better outcomes for the vulnerable segments of society served by nonprofits. At the same time, the current paradigm for using evaluation to get those outcomes has faced challenges. It is time to revisit that paradigm and flip evidence building on its head.
Rather than primarily viewing evaluation as a tool for accountability, it is time to empower nonprofit leaders to use evaluation and evaluation thinking to drive their own evidence agendas. Like staff or facilities, data are a strategic asset for nonprofits and should be a fundamental component of strategic planning. Evaluation methods are tools that nonprofit leaders can use to generate evidence for decision-making as a routine part of their practice. In other words, evaluation should serve as the research and development component of nonprofit organizations, continually testing and improving services delivered to achieve greater benefit for the clients served.
This brief was shared at an April 2019 Project Evident-Brookings Institution convening to define and advance the next generation of evidence. It outlines our vision for what the next generation looks like – including how nonprofit leaders and practitioners should partner alongside evaluators to develop their own learning agendas – and what it will take for us to get there.