Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Program Evaluation and Narrative

My most recent post at the Philanthropy News Digest blog, PhilanTopic, explores how narrative can work alongside evaluation to determine organizational strategy. Here are some excerpts:

• Theories of Change should be accompanied by Stories of Change! Not simply an expository description of your Theory of Change, but an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end, conflict, and resolution. What is the future aspirational end toward which your organization is working? Where, and in what ways, have you already told that story?

• Narrative evaluation can support more seemingly rigorous methods of quantitative evaluation. In fact, narrative evaluation can uncover truths that may be difficult to surface in other ways.

• Grantees must be provided with a safe context in which they can share stories about their failures and unresolved challenges, as well as their successes. Self-reflection is critical to program and organizational development. Space can be provided for sense-making activities that explore the characters, challenges, settings, and other elements that contribute to success or failure. What are the emergent themes?

• Encouraging the sharing of stories among program officers often leads to insight, innovation, and more effective targeting of resources. And helping program officers become better listeners -- and better story sharers themselves -- is likely to result in more story sharing by grantees. True narrative leadership means prompting stories through the sharing of stories; asking for stories and then fully listening to the stories that are shared; recognizing and exploring commonalities among the stories one hears; and acting on the knowledge gleaned through those stories.

• Evaluators should spend more time thinking about how they can present their findings through narrative: Do their findings lend themselves to a presentation with a clear beginning, middle, and end? Why did the organization decide to measure the things it did? What were the barriers it encountered along the way? Was it successful? What, if anything, has changed as a result of gathering that data?

• When approached thoughtfully, the knowledge gleaned through story sharing and narrative analysis can contribute considerable value to the strategic focus and programmatic effectiveness of any organization.