What key questions about your church programs would you like answers to?
How well does our church food pantry meet the needs of our neighbors?
Why don’t our Sunday School students have a better grasp of the Bible?
How do our fundraisers help us fulfill our church’s mission?
Does the Bible study we’re offering address our members’ spiritual needs?
If we begin to implement new programs, how can we gain early and regular feedback so that we learn as we go and make adjustments as needed?
To answer your key questions, you need to have a plan, an evaluation plan. Many churches struggle when attempting to improve their programs because they don’t know how to evaluate them effectively.
Collaborative evaluation is a method that enables churches to provide crucial feedback for themselves while a program is ongoing. Its purpose is mutual learning, not judgment. It empowers church leaders, volunteers and participants by engaging them in a process that answers their key questions about a particular project or program. Therefore the evaluation results are immediately useful to these stakeholders. The learning that emerges leads to clarification of goals, better communication and improved programs. Collaborative evaluation fosters a culture of learning and continual renewal.
While initial introduction of the process may run more smoothly if led by someone trained in the collaborative method, subsequent use of this tool can often be done with internal leadership.
The process consists of six steps. They are:
3. Information Gathering
4. Analysis and Interpretation
6. Use of Findings
1. Focusing is a critical step that is often neglected. It is a guided discussion working to refine the scope of research and the resulting information gathered. This saves a great deal of time, energy and frustration. Focusing narrows the evaluation by asking who the evaluation is for, what is being evaluated, what key questions will be answered, where the information will be found and who will lead the evaluation process.
2. Design engages an overview of the evaluation process including types of resources to be used, evaluation methods, assignments, schedule, budget and types of reports that will be needed for different audiences.
3. Gathering of information usually starts with written materials and may include interviews, surveys, participant observations, focus groups, pre- and post-tests and informal conversations. If the evaluation process has been integrated into the original plan for the project, this stage of the process is much easier to accomplish.
4. Integrating and interpreting are made easier if the key evaluation questions are kept in mind. While coding software exists to help with this step, smaller projects can best be analyzed by a few individuals who are willing to spend time mining and reflecting on the information.
5. Reporting should be geared toward usefulness. Not everyone needs the same level of detail and different groups will want the information presented in ways they can absorb and respond to.
6. Finally, since the reports are answering key questions that program/project personnel have been asking, they will be more open to using the answers provided to make needed adjustments in order to achieve the results that have been agreed to.
To learn more about implementing a Collaborative Evaluation in your church view the Outlook webinar The Power of Collaborative Evaluation or communicate directly with Cathryn (Cathy) Surgenor at [email protected]. Rev Surgenor learned the Collaborative Evaluation process while working with Susan Weber, Coordinator, Evaluation Project, Religion Division of the Lilly Endowment. She is the principle evaluator at Evaluation Building Understanding.
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