Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

Evaluation – The key to learning and improving practice is asking powerful questions

KarleenQLD  Author: Karleen Gwinner

How do you build your organisations capacity to learn so you actually increase the ability to achieve your mission and the results you want to achieve?

Learning relates to your evaluation

Great monitoring and evaluation (M&E) help us to pivot in response to the strengths and weaknesses; the problems and the successes, of a program while it is being delivered. When M&E is properly employed, we engage in action learning. We can develop creative, flexible and successful strategies to pressing problems and respond to issues as they emerge.

The backbone of M&E

Prior to planning an effective M&E you need to make sure there is clarity around the impact of your programs (and not just the outputs). This should be built on the needs and/ or issues you are addressing. Clearly defined outcomes and outputs are the backbone of program monitoring. They will help to guide active learning and simplify the evaluative process.

With the backbone in place, it is time to connect the muscle

The muscle helps you to flex your backbone - through active learning. The muscle is built by asking the important questions…the most powerful questions. THE question your program is really sitting with. What is the tricky thing you are trying to figure out in order to make change work?

Powerful questions generate enthusiasm to generate the answers. They spark inquiry with your stakeholders, staff and participants. A powerful question will link what happened in the past to what needs to be done in the future.

A good powerful question is linked to a program’s efficiency, effectiveness, outcomes and impact.

Action oriented and forward-thinking questions ask ‘What would it take to…’ OR ‘What is the action we could do that will lead to this?’ Skeleton Image1Blog

Powerful questions need to be focused and specific.

Powerful questions are:

* open-ended- that is, it will typically not have a single final and correct answer

* forward thinking

* able to spark discussion and debate

Powerful questions will require support and justification, not just an answer.

One final tip

To help you develop powerful questions - imagine scenarios that help you check the usefulness and relevance of the question (is it specific enough, can you answer the question with the resources you have) and that it covers the range of outcomes or issues you want to change.

In short - powerful questions will help you accomplish learning and improve practice and program delivery. The most effective evaluation is that which encourages, and rewards effective practice based on clearly defined outcomes.

 To learn more, check out our Fund-amentals of Evaluation Webinaravailable here